Now that the general election matchup is essentially determined, North Carolina emerges as one of the very small handful of states that will determine who will be president of the United States for the next four years.
Ted Cruz dropped out of the Republican race Tuesday and John Kasich surrendered Wednesday. So it will almost certainly be Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton, and North Carolina will be crucial.
More than 40 states can already be counted on to vote Democratic or Republican. The University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato labels not a single state a “toss-up.” He calls only eight states leaners – North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Nevada, Colorado, Iowa and New Hampshire.
When Sabato recently updated his generic Republican-versus-Democrat map from May 2015 to reflect a Trump-Clinton race, North Carolina was the only state that jumped two categories – from leans Republican, past toss-up, to leans Democratic.
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Among the states that are safe bets for one party or the other, Clinton leads in the electoral vote count 247-190, Sabato says. So of the 101 electoral votes in play, Clinton would need just 23 and Trump would need 80.
That’s why North Carolina – which Democrat Barack Obama won in 2008 but Republican Mitt Romney won in 2012 – is so important. If Trump loses North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes, a second President Clinton will surely be sworn in Jan. 20.
The latest Public Policy Polling poll found Clinton and Trump tied 44-44 in North Carolina. A poll from the conservative Civitas Institute last week found Clinton up 49-37.
Neither candidate is popular here, but Trump is more unpopular. The Civitas poll found Trump with a laughable 30-65 favorable/unfavorable rating; Clinton was at 43-52. (Who are the 5 percent with no opinion?) That suggests enough Republicans and unaffiliated voters will stay home to make Trump’s bid here difficult.
Tremors from the Trump Effect could be felt across the ballot. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory is already in the fight of his life, pitted against Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper and weighed down by HB 2 and an unpopular Republican legislature. Trump’s candidacy could be a wet blanket that extinguishes the McCrory campaign’s coals.
In a normal year, two-term incumbent Sen. Richard Burr would have little trouble against a little-known Democrat like Deborah Ross. But Trump could alter that. National Democrats on Wednesday wasted no time labeling Burr as representing “the Party of Trump” and emphasized that Burr wants Trump, not Obama, to nominate the next Supreme Court justice. McCrory, Burr and other Republicans will be dogged by Trump-related questions for the next six months, and could suffer from even a slightly depressed turnout among Republicans.
It all might be enough to nudge Republicans into putting an HB 2 referendum on the November ballot, pending how the U.S. Justice Department’s ruling from Wednesday plays out. Such a move might be the only way to motivate Republican voters who otherwise wouldn’t show up for Trump.