And so it begins, a fierce general election campaign for the White House that will steer Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump into North Carolina and other battleground states in pursuit of the necessary 270 electoral votes.
Fresh from national party conventions that were only a week – but worlds – apart, the two campaigns now will sharpen the messages and voter appeals they rehearsed in all those speeches and slogans in Cleveland and Philadelphia.
Both conventions sent strong signals that the candidates and their parties see North Carolina as a pivotal state. At the GOP convention, Eric Trump, son of the candidate, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., were among the A-listers to visit the North Carolina delegation.
At the Democratic gathering, several North Carolinians – including a Guilford County teacher and a Raleigh entrepreneur – were tapped to give speeches from the podium. And when Democrats came to North Carolina in the nationally televised roll call of the states, delegations beyond the Tar Heel State cheered when state party chair Patsy Keever called for repeal of House Bill 2.
The prime-time shows gave Trump and Clinton unfiltered access into voters’ living rooms, and they offered a glimpse into the candidates’ very different parties and visions of America.
Which one will voters choose in November?
On immigration …
At the Republican National Convention, “victims of illegal immigrants” were among the speakers and there were chants of “Build the wall!” from delegates wanting to seal the border with Mexico.
At the Democrats’ convention last week in Philadelphia, nearly 750 delegates were Latinos and the party’s nominee for vice president – U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. – gave part of his acceptance speech in Spanish.
On social issues …
Republicans heard from Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, an evangelical Christian school in Virginia that has long been a citadel of the Religious Right. “A vote for Trump is a vote to appoint conservative, pro-life justices to the Supreme Court,” he said.
Democrats got a thunderous sermon on the final night from the Rev. William Barber, founder of North Carolina’s left-leaning “Moral Monday” movement. He brought the house down at the Wells Fargo Center by preaching for unity and for action to help the poor. “In this season when some want to harden and stop the heart of our democracy,” he shouted, “we are being called … to be the moral defibrillators of our time.”
And on war and Islam …
Powerful, even raw, TV moments spotlighting grieving parents spoke volumes about what to expect from Trump and Clinton on the stump – and in the White House.
Speaking at the GOP convention, Patricia Smith said she blamed then-secretary of state Clinton for the death of her son Sean, a State Department employee killed in the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya.
At the Democratic convention Thursday night, delegates heard from Khizer Khan, a Muslim whose son Humayun was a U.S. Army captain posthumously awarded the Bronze Star after dying in the Iraq war. The elder Khan – accompanied by his wife, who wore a hijab, or head scarf – criticized Trump for smearing Muslims and offered to lend him a copy of the U.S. Constitution.
The two conventions also said much about the campaigns’ strategies going forward into the fall.
Trump wants to make “Crooked Hillary” the issue. During his acceptance speech, he blamed her – even more than President Barack Obama – for the rise of ISIS and for the turbulence abroad that could imperil Americans in the homeland. “This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: Death, destruction, terrorism and weakness,” he said.
Clinton, meanwhile, is trying to turn the election into a referendum on Trump. She’s questioning his fitness for office by focusing on his controversial comments at rallies, news conferences – and in the Twitter-sphere. “A man you can bait with a tweet,” she said during her acceptance speech, “is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”
But there also were signs that this year’s election might lead to new alliances and nontraditional approaches.
Though much was made in Philadelphia about Clinton being the first woman ever nominated for president by a major party, the strong feminist identity of the first few days gave way to optics more closely associated with past Republican conventions: Military generals on stage, American-flag waving delegates and chants of “U-S-A!” Clinton, seeking an opening, was beginning her general election wooing of those Republicans and independents disaffected with Trump, especially foreign-policy hawks.
Clinton and President Obama also resurrected “Morning in America” – the uplifting mantra Republican hero Ronald Reagan used to carry 49 states during his 1984 presidential re-election campaign. It’s a more hopeful tone that the Clinton campaign is betting voters will like better than the bleak portrait of an America in crisis that Trump painted at his convention.
While acknowledging the pain of many who are anxious about the economy, Clinton said during her acceptance speech that Trump had turned “Morning in America” into “Midnight in America.”
Not all Democrats at the convention hall were comfortable with the flip in tone, and more than a few chanted “No more war!” during speeches by General John Allen and former CIA chief Leon Panetta.
Trump, too, used his convention to reach out to voters who traditionally have backed candidates of the other party. The biggest group: blue-collar white men, including union members in the Rust Belt states and former textile workers in the Carolinas, who feel left behind by the global economy.
During a GOP convention that celebrated Trump’s alpha male image, the billionaire candidate touted his pledge to negotiate more U.S. worker-friendly trade deals and talked about his father, a mentor to him who felt “most comfortable in the company of bricklayers, carpenters, and electricians. And I have a lot of that in me. I love those people.”
While Trump continues to tap into working-class resentment with his promise to “Make America Great Again,” his campaign slogan, one of Clinton’s major goals will be to convince African-American voters – especially in swing states like North Carolina and Virginia – to give her as big a turnout as they gave Obama during 2008 and 2012.
The president asked for nothing less during his speech Wednesday night at the Democratic convention. Also a boost: The well-received address by first lady Michelle Obama, who promoted Clinton as a fighter for families.
In Philadelphia, 1,182 of the 4,765 delegates were black. The number of African-American delegates at the GOP convention in Cleveland: 18 (out of 2,472).
As the campaigns gear up this month, also look for Trump to mobilize rural voters and conservative evangelicals in North Carolina and elsewhere. Willie Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” was a speaker on the first night of the GOP convention, and Dr. Ben Carson, who dropped out of the GOP presidential race, suggested to delegates that Clinton was soft on Lucifer because of her youthful admiration for community organizer Saul Alinsky.
Clinton will be counting on female voters – actress Meryl Streep made a cameo on the DNC stage – and has to attract most of the young people who would have preferred Sen. Bernie Sanders as the party’s nominee. She began that courtship at the convention by agreeing to add several of Sander’s top priorities – including a plank calling for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour – to the party platform.
And in whipping up their supporters this fall, both campaigns might use North Carolina’s HB2 as a tool.
The controversial law, which cost Charlotte the NBA All-Star Game, overturned a Charlotte city ordinance that would have expanded anti-discrimination protections to the LGBTQ community and allowed transgendered persons to use the bathroom conforming to their gender identity.
The issue likely will dominate the governor’s race in North Carolina, which is expected to be perhaps the closest in the country.
And in the presidential race?
New York-based Trump has been friendlier to LGBTQ concerns than his party – the Republican platform passed at the convention calls for a constitutional amendment overturning same-sex marriage.
But judging from the Democratic convention, running against HB2 could help Clinton fire up many of the liberal and LGBTQ voters she’ll need in competing for North Carolina, which is a must-win state for Trump.
Anti-HB2 buttons were a common sight in North Carolina’s Democratic delegation in Philadelphia. And Thursday night, Sarah McBride became the first transgender person to speak at a major-party convention.
McBride, national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, got national headlines in April after she posted a selfie inside a woman’s bathroom at the Mecklenburg Government Center in Charlotte. The photo went viral.
With the two conventions over, the race toward November has begun. And at least for now, pollsters say Trump and Clinton – and their respective versions of America – are neck-and-neck in North Carolina and nationally.