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Could Dems Flip This Red State In 2024?

Photo by Clay Banks / Unsplash

By Mary Lou Masters, Daily Caller News Foundation | March 17, 2024

  • Democrats are hoping to flip North Carolina in 2024 after former President Donald Trump secured the red state in both 2016 and 2020.
  • The narrow margin Trump won by in 2020, demographic changes in the state and the election of Republican gubernatorial nominee Mark Robinson might put North Carolina back on the map for President Joe Biden this cycle, political scientists and state operatives told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
  • “We like our chances here, we think they have a real shot to win,” Morgan Jackson, a Democratic strategist based in North Carolina, told the DCNF.

Several electoral and demographic factors in North Carolina could put the red state in play for President Joe Biden in November, political experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Democrats are setting their sights on North Carolina as opposed to other battleground states like Georgia for a rematch with former President Donald Trump. The narrow margin Trump won by in 2020, population changes in the state and the election of Republican gubernatorial nominee Mark Robinson might put North Carolina back on the map for Biden this cycle, according to political scientists and state operatives.

“Looks like at this point, North Carolina is the Trump state that is most likely to be in play in 2024, while there are half a dozen Biden states that are expected to be in play,” Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia who specializes in southern politics and elections, told the DCNF.

All of the swing states that were critical to Biden’s win last cycle are currently leaning toward Trump in the RealClearPolitics (RCP) averages, including Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The former president is also ahead of Biden by 5.5 points in North Carolina, where Trump received his slimmest margin of the 2020 cycle.

Since then, the state has grown rapidly, particularly in urban areas like Raleigh, Charlotte and Durham. North Carolina accounted for some of the nation’s highest population growth between 2022 and 2023 behind only Texas and Florida, and has the fifth fastest rate in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Many of these individuals moving into urban areas in North Carolina typically lean Democratic, according to the political experts.

“One of the reasons that President Biden is so laser focused on North Carolina is because North Carolina’s a state in transition, and is a state that demographically is urbanizing, is getting more college educated, the urban areas are growing really rapidly, and that is having the biggest impact on North Carolina’s electoral landscape for the last five years and for the next ten or 20 years,” Morgan Jackson, a Democratic consultant based in the state, told the DCNF. “Virtually every county in the state that is growing rapidly in population is getting more Democratic.”

North Carolina has also seen an increase of unaffiliated individuals, who now make up more of the registered voter population than either major party, according to the state’s data. Democrats have actually lost voters since the 2020 election, while Republicans have seen a slight increase.

“I call it the swingiest of all swing states, and that’s because of the rapid growth of unaffiliated voters. In the last ten years, we’ve added almost a million unaffiliated voters,” Paul Shumaker, a Republican strategist based in North Carolina, told the DCNF. “Unaffiliated voters are going to determine who wins and who loses, and that means North Carolina will be in play on both sides for at least the next two to three election cycles, regardless of who the candidates are.”

Robinson, North Carolina’s lieutenant governor, secured the GOP gubernatorial nomination on Super Tuesday, earning nearly 65% of the share, according to The Associated Press. Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein won his party’s primary with 69.6% support.

The Trump-endorsed candidate has only held public office since 2020, but has made a series of remarks on various social issues that critics have pointed to when arguing against his candidacy and electability.

“What I think makes North Carolina more attractive to Democrats right now is the nomination of Mark Robinson and his record of statements,” said Bullock. “He has endorsed Trump, Trump has endorsed him, and so there’ll be efforts to link those two on that issue of the role of women in politics, on abortion, a whole bunch of social issues.”

Jackson echoed Bullock’s sentiment, and argued Robinson’s candidacy will serve as a drag to Trump’s.

“Not only does Trump have real problems with suburban voters, when you add on Mark Robinson to suburban voters, it’s like spraying insect repellent on suburban, college-educated voters,” said Jackson. “There’s no question in my mind that Mark Robinson leading the ticket in North Carolina for Republicans is hurtful to Donald Trump.”

Conversely, Jon Green, elections expert and political science professor at Duke University, is skeptical of the scenario’s potential “reverse coattails.”

“I think the Trump ties and sort of Mark Robinson being very much a Trump-aligned figure is likelier to hurt Robinson than it is to hurt Trump, if that makes sense. I think people are going to tend to evaluate the top of the ticket as the top of the ticket,” said Green.

Shumaker argued that North Carolina’s presidential race currently leans Republican and the gubernatorial race “should favor the Democrats” — but there’s a caveat for both in his view.

“The problem Josh Stein has is Joe Biden. The problem that Donald Trump has in North Carolina is Mark Robinson. Because the Democrats are going to try to link him to Mark Robinson’s radical, way-out positions, and hopefully fix their intensity problem,” said Shumaker, citing the enthusiasm gap between the party primaries on March 5. “They’re gonna try to fix their intensity problem with social issues. Can they do that? Don’t know.”

Roughly 376,000 more North Carolina voters participated in the Republican primary than the Democratic primary when Trump beat former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley by roughly 51 points. Biden secured 87.3% support compared to the “no preference” ballot option’s 12.7% after Pro-Palestinian activists encouraged voters to oppose the president’s candidacy over his handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

Additionally, North Carolinians have a history of ticket-splitting in presidential elections.

For instance, the state went for Trump and incumbent Republican Sens. Richard Burr and Tom Tillis in 2016 and 2020, respectively, while electing Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper both cycles.

A WRAL-TV/SurveyUSA survey released Monday found Trump leading Biden by five points, while Robinson lagged behind Stein 44% to 42%.

“Voters in North Carolina are quite experienced in splitting their tickets. And again, sure, if you wear a red MAGA hat, you’re not gonna split your vote, and a true blue Democrat isn’t neither. But there [is] a component of North Carolina voters that do,” said Bullock. “You’re gonna see some share of that vote in North Carolina, you know, hopscotching down the ballot rather than just going, ‘bing, bing, bing, bing, bing’ for one party or the other.”

In 2020, Biden was beating the incumbent nearly all cycle in the RCP’s average, with Trump only leading in 19 surveys all cycle. Trump has already led Biden in nearly every 2024 North Carolina poll, boasting leads anywhere from one to 11 points, according to the RCP’s compilation.

The political experts argued that current polling is likely not a predictor of how the state will go this cycle, as there are still many undecided voters eight months out.

Green believes the surveys are “probably an overestimate of how Trump’s gonna do in November.”

“Early polls are what they are, and they should be interpreted sort of as nothing more and nothing less than early polls, right? State of the race where it is right now,” said Green. “We know that a lot of people are not paying super close attention to politics right now, so there’s more room for movement I think now than there will be later on after the conventions, after people who don’t typically pay very close attention to politics start tuning in.”

Shumaker argued that if Biden is able to defeat Trump in North Carolina, “there’s no pathway for him to win the presidency.”

North Carolina has only elected a Democratic president twice since 1964 — Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Barack Obama in 2008.

“We like our chances here, we think they have a real shot to win,” said Jackson.

The Trump, Robinson, Biden and Stein campaigns did not respond to the DCNF’s requests for comment.

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