RALEIGH — With the 2020 election cycle heading into full swing, President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign is ramping up efforts in every state, including North Carolina.
Trump faces no serious challengers and has posted record fundraising numbers for the past few quarters. With primaries starting, the Trump campaign is testing its organization.
Trump’s team is “pouring money into the contests, dispatching dozens of surrogates and staging presidential rallies” which has the dual effect of putting 2020 Democrats on notice and reflects the growing enthusiasm for reelecting the president.
“Even though it’s a foregone conclusion that the president will win the Republican primary, we still want them to go out and vote,” Chris Ager, one of New Hampshire’s three representatives on the Republican National Committee, told the Associated Press. “We don’t want to cede the ground to the Democrats just because they have more enthusiasm.”
Both the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 11 will serve as tests for the campaign’s messaging, but the ground game in critical key states like North Carolina may prove to be an even bigger statement for Trump’s team.
North Carolina will also be the backdrop for Trump’s anticipated acceptance of the party nomination at the 2020 Republican National Convention. Over 8,000 volunteers will be pitching to deal with over 50,000 expected RNC attendees, which will take place August 24-27 in Charlotte.
Michael Whatley, N.C. Republican Party Chairman, said he expects the President, as well as senior officials and Vice President Pence, to make additional campaign stops in North Carolina as both the convention and General Election approach. Trump is scheduled to visit the Tarheel State Friday in Charlotte.
The Trump Team, which is headquartered in N.C. GOP’s Raleigh office, is “already here on the ground,” according to Whatley.
“We are absolutely a crucial swing state and President Trump has to carry it in order to win,” said Whatley. “Both the Trump campaign and the Democrats know that.”
Whatley said that the teams on the ground in North Carolina are focused on voter education, voter registration, and boosting both early and November election turnouts. The party has held events in all 100 counties across the state so far and the enthusiasm is at “an all-time high.”
“People are very excited,” said Whatley. “And the impeachment, as ridiculous as it is, is actually doing a lot to galvanize support for the president because they understand what a witch hunt it is.”
The N.C. GOP will also be holding its annual convention from May 14-17, 2020, in Greenville at the Greenville Convention Center. Council of State and other candidates will be in attendance along with 2,000 delegates from 100 counties for the official kick-off of the 2020 election.
South Carolina and Nevada canceled their nominating contests to show their allegiance to the president, but the campaign has nonetheless been in discussions about holding a Trump rally in Nevada ahead of Democratic voting.
The Trump campaign views the deployment as a supercharged version of traditional “bracketing,” bringing the president and other heavy hitters to step on Democrats’ messages at a pivotal juncture in the campaign.
It’s an “incredible opportunity” to contrast Trump’s agenda with the Democrats’ in states that they believe Trump has a chance of carrying in November, said RNC and Trump campaign spokesman Rick Gorka.
The nominating contests also represent an opportunity for the GOP to kick the tires on its voter mobilization efforts and turnout models. In New Hampshire’s Hillsborough County, for instance, party officials have been encouraging town committees to have ballot inspectors monitor polling sites “even though we know it’s going to be an overwhelmingly Democratic presence,” Ager said.
The Trump campaign is keenly aware that three of the four early states are also general-election battlegrounds. Trump won Iowa by 9 percentage points in 2016 and lost New Hampshire and Nevada by fewer than 3,000 votes and 37,000 votes, respectively.
“We’re focused on the general election in November, so it’s all about building that ground game and that momentum in November,” Gorka said.
In North Carolina, Chairman Whatley said that they are using the enthusiasm to help the ground game for other state-level races on this year’s ballot.
“We want to translate the excitement and enthusiasm for President Trump to make sure we win the governor’s race; we’re going to win the Senate race; we’re going to take back seats on the Court of Appeals and the [state] Supreme Court,” said Whatley.
The Republicans know judicial races can be expensive, as evidenced by the millions of dollars pumped into past races, much of which came from out of state. Last year, the N.C. GOP launched a “Judicial Victory Fund,” in a serious effort to win back some of the court seats.
Fundraising events for the Judicial Victory Fund have already begun, with former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker keynoting a fundraiser on Jan. 20 in Gastonia.
Between the 2016 election and through appointments by Gov. Roy Cooper after the departure of Chief Justice Mark Martin, the state’s Supreme Court became hyper-partisan. Republicans found themselves outnumbered six to one on the state’s highest court.
This year, three seats on the state’s Supreme Court are up for election and one of those seats is for chief justice. Senior Associate Justice Paul Newby, a Republican, is running against Cheri Beasley, a Democrat.
Cooper broke with tradition last year by skipping over Newby, the senior associate justice, and appointing Beasley to be Mark Martin’s replacement as chief justice. At the time of the appointment, Newby had served almost 15 years on the Supreme Court versus Beasley’s six.
Cooper also bypassed Democrat and Associate Justice Robin Hudson who at the time had 12 years of experience on the court.
By comparison, the state’s Court of Appeals has 15 judges and is more balanced with eight Democrats and seven Republicans. There are five seats up for election this year on the Court of Appeals.
Chairman Whatley said that in addition to a focus on judicial races, adding to the majorities in North Carolina’s state House and Senate is also a priority.
Whatley said that Republicans are confident it will be a “great night in November.”
Jill Colvin and Zeke Miller of the Associated Press contributed to this report.
This article has been updated to reflect that the NC Republican party has held events in all 100 counties. An earlier version of this article said the party had held events in 54 counties.