Clinton, Trump differ on NC campaign strategies

Eamon Queeney—North State Journal
Eric Trump speaks to a television reporter in an interview at Trump National Golf Club Charlotte in Mooresville on Aug. 18. Eric and his wife

RALEIGH — North Carolina has comfortably secured its status as a key battleground state in the 2016 presidential elections. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump are both investing a lot in the Old North State to secure a win in November.Clinton has opened field offices across the state to get out the vote, while Trump and his surrogates make appearances in key markets nearly every week now in what is shaping up to be a battle of the traditional versus non-traditional to claim the state’s 15 electoral votes.Trump, who has spent remarkably little on advertising and has resisted traditional field operations to this point, has emphasizes personal appearances and rallies to enthuse his base.Marc Rotterman, host of Front Row, a political roundtable talk show on WUNC-TV, described the approach Trump needs to win.”He motivates people when he fires up his base,” said Rotterman. “He draws huge crowds which helps, but it doesn’t necessarily translate to turnout. You’ve got to work the local press, particularly Donald Trump. He’s not getting a fair shake from local media.”Though, as with the Trump campaign leadership, their strategy may be evolving soon. The Trump campaign recently announced a large advertising buy in key states, including North Carolina. In an interview with North State Journal, Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump, a North Carolina native, explained how they’re investing in a more robust ground game.”We’re very aware of the situation with the Clinton campaign and we have plans,” she said. “I think within the next week we’re planning to open maybe 10 to 15 different offices here in this state in addition to what we already have going on.”Still, each candidate is focusing efforts on different parts of the state to gain an edge, according to Rotterman.”Clinton has to win the suburban areas, while Trump needs an over vote in blue collar Eastern North Carolina,” said Rotterman. “If I were Trump, I would be in Greenville, Jacksonville, New Bern — Eastern N.C. is Trump territory.”Lara Trump, originally from Wrightsville Beach and a graduate of NC State, is married to Eric Trump and eager to leverage her connection to the state to extend the campaign’s reach.”I’m excited to be back here in my home state,” she said. “I certainly want to play as big a role as possible. Whether that means going to smaller areas where my father-in-law couldn’t go and meeting with people, answering their questions, finding about what’s important to them this election cycle, and just really doing everything we can to connect with all people.”All my family for the most part is still here in North Carolina,” she continued. “My parents are small business owners, a lot of my extended family own small businesses. So, the things that are important to the average person in North Carolina, they tell me about. It’s impacted them. I think hearing a first-person perspective when it comes to my family being affected by things like that, I think it really means something and it impacts my father-in-law when I tell him these things.”Brad Crone, president of Campaign Connections, a Raleigh-based campaign consulting firm, sees regional divergence in the opposing campaigns, but thinks the Clinton campaign’s heavier focus on field operations could be a deciding factor.”The Trump people believe they have a movement, but a movement is not sustainable if you don’t have feet on the ground, and I don’t see Trump’s troops out,” said Crone. “The only conservative field operations that I’ve seen has been Americans For Prosperity, and they’ve been knocking on social conservative and evangelical doors in the western part of the state.”Clinton’s running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine, thinks the field operations focus is most important.”It’s not going to be one more TV ad that tips this thing,” said Kaine at a recent campaign rally in Fayetteville. “It’s not going to be a negative ad that’s going to tip this thing. It’s going to be person-to-person volunteering, talking to your neighbor. People don’t believe what they see on TV anymore. Maybe that’s smart, but they do believe a word from a trusted friend or neighbor or someone at their church or someone they go to church or a co-worker. They believe that.”The Clinton campaign is currently running a barrage of both positive and negative TV ads in the North Carolina market.Although Trump, running mate Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, and surrogates like former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani have held large rallies across the state, Clinton, her surrogates, and Kaine have also spent considerable time in North Carolina investing in ads and field operations.”The Clinton campaign now has more than 300 field staff across the state,” said Crone. “They’re organized and they’re organized in their priority counties and they have clear-cut directions. It is the most robust field operation I’ve seen in the state since 2008.”Yet, according to Crone, Clinton’s activities in the state may be more defense than offense.”The Clinton campaign knows Trump must win North Carolina,” said Crone. “It’s an absolute must win [for him]. She doesn’t necessarily have to win in N.C. but she’s going to force him to spend money here and spend time here trying to defend his home turf.”Her home turf is exactly what Lara Trump hopes to defend for her father-in-law after playing an instrumental role in his Republican primary win in the state.”We have 80 days to go,”she said, “and I don’t want to wake up on Nov. 9 thinking I could have done more, gone to more places around the state to really let them know what Donald Trump is about.”