North Carolina Could Be the Most Interesting State This Election

By Jonsson, Patrik | The Christian Science Monitor, October 20, 2016 | Go to article overview

North Carolina Could Be the Most Interesting State This Election


Jonsson, Patrik, The Christian Science Monitor


Even in an election that has evoked intense political passions, the incident stood out: the firebombing last weekend of a Republican campaign headquarters in North Carolina.

The brazen attack was immediately and widely condemned. Democrats raised money to rebuild the office, and the state Republican Party later thanked Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for her statements of support.

But the incident - as well as the paper-thin margins in recent presidential polls here - have put North Carolina in the spotlight.

The state has become more than a must-win for Donald Trump. It has emerged as a unique looking-glass into the partisan divides that have fueled this election.

Other states are electoral battlegrounds, but none have North Carolina's mix of traditional Southern-style conservatism alongside thriving Millennial-led multicultural progressivism. Agrarian yet tech savvy, deeply evangelical yet globally progressive, deep red splashed with bright blue - the contrasts that once were part of North Carolina's unique draw have become fissures.

That makes it a state to watch not only on Election Day, but in the months and years after - a crucible for how the pitched sides of America's political divide can coexist and evolve.

"North Carolina is a microcosm of the divisions in the US electorate, but on steroids: The gap between white voters with and without college degrees is huge, the white to nonwhite gap is huge, and the rural-urban gap is huge," says Steven Greene, a political scientist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

North Carolina as mini-AmericaThe FiveThirtyEight polling average shows Mrs. Clinton with a 1.8 percentage point lead on Mr. Trump in North Carolina. The data journalism site also notes the state's peculiar character.

"Its mix of voters - a combination of college-educated whites (and college students) in Charlotte and the Research Triangle, African-Americans, and often very conservative white evangelicals elsewhere in the state - is distinctive," writes Nate Silver.

The site rates North Carolina as the fourth-most-important state in the presidential race - the fourth-most-likely tipping point to determine the election.

But in many ways, North Carolina has a much deeper significance to this election. It has been wrenched by many of the most divisive issues of the election, offering a more-intimate portrait of the challenges the election has brought to the fore.

The state's faltering furniture and textile mills have been hit so hard by trade and other forces that three of the five fastest- falling economic regions in the United States are in North Carolina.

And the racial fault lines that have largely defined this election have played out sharply in North Carolina.

In September, the shooting of a black man, Keith Scott, by police in Charlotte resulted in several nights of riots and led the governor to deploy the National Guard.

And in July, a federal appeals court struck down a state voter ID law that, the judges wrote, targeted African Americans with "almost surgical precision."

Perhaps the most obvious example of the cultural and political divides playing out in the state came with the passage of House Bill 2, the bathroom bill that limited transgender rights and has led to widespread boycotts of the state.

Many of the clashes are born of North Carolina's changing demographics. There are now fewer native-born North Carolinians in the state than newcomers. Nearly half a million people moved into the state since 2010, many of them Millennials migrating to hip, walkable cities with jobs.

When Republicans took over the state legislature in 2010, they started a backlash to stem the spread of liberal ideals.

Tar Heels and TrumpismTrump's movement has had the same aims, in many respects. And it has adopted the same tone. …

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