DURHAM — Both major presidential campaigns are making clear that North Carolina is a must-win state in their election strategies as key surrogates and the candidates themselves heavily canvass the state in the final days of the election.
Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s campaign has been much more reticent to hold in-person events throughout the race, citing the COVID-19 pandemic and focusing on virtual events. But with only a couple weeks remaining and the important state in a dead heat, Biden’s campaign has increased its physical presence dramatically.
Last Sunday, Biden traveled to Durham to give a speech at Riverside High School. NSJ was present outside and witnessed many of the state’s high-profile Democratic politicians drive by following the event, waving at supporters gathered in the parking lot.
Other events were also planned across Durham on Sunday by Democratic officials, like a “Todos Con Biden” car parade meant to drive turnout among the city’s Hispanic population. Biden was not at the event, but NSJ counted 21 vehicles in the caravan headed from Compare Foods on University Drive to an early-voting location at Durham’s South Regional Library. Biden was seen instead at an area Cook Out restaurant, where he ordered one chocolate and one vanilla shake, telling reporters he planned to combine them when back in the car.
At Biden’s Durham speech, he focused on Trump’s response to COVID-19, racial injustice and the Affordable Care Act, which he said Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett would vote to eliminate, and he would instead expand upon.
“Look, your governor has been working hard to expand Medicaid, but it’s being blocked by [the] Republican legislature,” Biden said. “My plan will automatically enroll 357,000 uninsured North Carolinians in a public option for free, automatically.”
Gates McGavick, North Carolina press secretary for Trump’s campaign, responded to the Biden visit, saying, “After ignoring North Carolina for months, a last-minute visit from Biden won’t make a dent in the advantage we’ve built thanks to our field army and frequent visits from President Trump.”
Biden’s running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, was set to speak in Asheville and Charlotte on Oct. 15, but the events were canceled after members of her staff tested positive for COVID-19. Her husband, Doug Emhoff, visited the state on Oct. 20, traveling to both Wilmington and Greenville. It was the second trip Emhoff had taken to North Carolina in October.
Harris herself is now cleared to travel and rescheduled the visits to both Asheville and Charlotte for Wednesday, while Biden’s wife, Jill, visited Greenville and Fayetteville earlier in the month.
The Trump campaign, not to be outdone, is having an active October in North Carolina as well.
The president has already visited the state numerous times, including a trip to the airport in Greenville on Oct. 15 and then, less than a week later, is scheduled to be in Gastonia, also at the city’s airport, on Wednesday at 7 p.m. This campaign strategy of airport rallies has allowed the president to minimize travel time as he visits swing states like North Carolina.
Vice President Mike Pence is also acting as a key Trump surrogate, frequently visiting the state, including a stop in Johnston County on Oct. 16, the day after the Trump visit. The president’s family is especially being used as surrogates.
Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and close adviser, visited Raleigh on Oct. 20, following a visit earlier this month to Belmont, in suburban Charlotte, where she participated in a “fireside chat” Q&A with supporters.
Lara Trump, the wife of the president’s son Eric, gave a speech outside the New Hanover Republican Party Headquarters on Oct. 14. She has deep connections to the state, having graduated from NC State University and growing up in the Wilmington area, where she spoke.
Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest child, meanwhile, is doing a series of “Make America Great Again” events across the state, hitting Arden — a mountain town near Asheville — on the afternoon of Oct. 19 before heading to the Winston-Salem suburb of Kernersville for a rally that evening.
Many of these events were only made public at the last minute, so there will likely be more in the final two weeks that have yet to be announced.
According to the RealClearPolitics average of recent polling, Biden leads in the Tarheel State by 2.7%, but the latest poll, by Emerson College, has the race as a tie — both candidates with 49%. The poll was taken of 721 likely North Carolina voters from Oct. 13-14.
Early voting began Oct. 15 and will continue until Oct. 31. North Carolina will then vote with the rest of the nation on Election Day, Nov. 3.