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Big Crowds But No Ads; Why Trump May Be In Trouble In Must Win NC

Donald Trump at a campaign stop in Concord
Tom Bullock
Donald Trump at a campaign stop in Concord

Donald Trump at a campaign stop in Concord
Tom Bullock
Donald Trump at a campaign stop in Concord

If Donald Trump’s presidential campaign were a business, it would be in trouble. The latestcampaign finance recordsshow it spent a million more dollars than it took in last month. And now it has just $1.3 million in the bank.

It’s a surprisingly low number which poses major problems for the campaign in battle ground states like North Carolina.

When the Donald Trump tour made its latest stop in North Carolina, he was greeted by thousands of fans. And the all but anointed Republican presidential nominee told the cheering crowd, "We’re going to win at every single level. We’re going to win so much that you’re going to beg me please, Mr. President, we’re winning too much we can’t stand it, Mr. President!"

But for that honorific to become official, Donald Trump must first win North Carolina according to Josh Putnam. "There are very few scenarios where a Republican candidate is going to be successful without carrying North Carolina." Putnam is a political scientist and is one of just three pundits who correctly called the Electoral College results in 2012, months before the first votes were cast. Putnam sees North Carolina as "among the three closest states between Clinton and Trump right now."

And conventional wisdom says that if you’re in a tight race, in a must win state, you need more than just the occasional rally and a steady flow of news coverage to be victorious. But so far that’s about all the Trump campaign has going for it in North Carolina. Not so for his opponent. "You need to put some shoe leather down and you gotta get out there," says Troy Clair, State Director for Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign. "You have to get on the phones, you have to register voters and you have to show people that you are here."

Campaigns need money to do that. Clair considers it an investment. "It was not a given that the campaign would invest in North Carolina. And we are doing that. And investing seriously and competing seriously."

Bouyed by a huge cash advantage, camp Clinton has $42 million in the bank. Whereas team Trump has $1.3 million to spend.

Here, in North Carolina, that’s translating to campaign staff says Clair. "Right now we have about 60 paid staffers on the ground." Each making at least $3,000 a month plus health care benefits.

And the Clinton camp says they’ll soon increase the number of official offices in the state from one to seven.

The Trump campaign did not reply to our interview requests but they currently have no official campaign offices in the state and have just one paid staffer on the ground – their North Carolina State Chair Earl Phillip.

In the past Trump has countered these kinds of arguments by saying he’s running a leaner, more cost efficient campaign. And one way he’s doing that in North Carolina is by effectively outsourcing his ground game team to the Republican National Committee and the state party, which is chaired by Robin Hayes. "We have had paid staff on the ground since 2013."

The staff Hayes is referring to are comprised of more than 40 campaign workers paid for by the RNC. Like the Clinton campaign staff, these folks train and coordinate volunteers, the heart of any candidate’s ground game. "So we are well prepared," says Hayes who quickly adds, "We are not slowing down. We are building from a great start into what should be a very successful November the 8th finish."

But in a state as populous as North Carolina, a ground game can only get you so far. Staffers and volunteers can only knock on a finite number of doors or make a finite number phone calls.

To reach the most voters you need to run political ads. And here’s where the cash on hand difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is most visible.

Turn on a TV anywhere in the state and you’re bound to see a spot like this.


This is part of what the Clinton campaign says is a six week long, eight figure ad blitz not just in North Carolina but in all the big battle ground states.

In North Carolina, Donald Trump’s campaign isn’t airing a single spot. And neither are any pro-Trump groups.

This seeming surrender in the ad war has left political watchers gobsmacked. Michael Bitzer from Catawba College is one of them. "For somebody who studies modern campaigns and election strategy I have to be thinking, boy, this is a huge tactical error on the part of the Trump campaign."

And a reason some Republicans are openly questioning if Trump is making a serious run for the White House. For if their candidate isn’t fighting in the battle ground states, where will he put up a fight.

Copyright 2016 WFAE

Tom Bullock decided to trade the khaki clad masses and traffic of Washington DC for Charlotte in 2014. Before joining WFAE, Tom spent 15 years working for NPR. Over that time he served as everything from an intern to senior producer of NPR’s Election Unit. Tom also spent five years as the senior producer of NPR’s Foreign Desk where he produced and reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Haiti, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon among others. Tom is looking forward to finally convincing his young daughter, Charlotte, that her new hometown was not, in fact, named after her.
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