North Carolina Suburban Women Might Hold The Key To Presidential Election

Sep 18, 2020
Originally published on September 18, 2020 3:55 pm

"The swingiest of swing states." That's what one political scientist dubbed North Carolina. Indeed, we've had some of the nation's closest presidential elections since the state went for Barack Obama in 2008 and then Republican for the next two elections. This time around, Democrats and Republicans are after what they agree is the demographic that could sway the presidential and statewide races. Politico's Michael Kruse looked at this dynamic in a recent article. He lives in Davidson and joins us now.

Lisa Worf: Welcome, Mr. Kruse.

Michael Kruse: Thanks so much for having me.

Worf: So first, why has North Carolina become such a swing state?

Kruse: What we're seeing is the intensification of some trends that have been going on for a couple decades, really, at this point. The rapid growth of North Carolina is altering the political terrain. You have people moving from the Northeast, you have people moving from the Midwest. And they're coming to Charlotte and Raleigh and the suburbs of Charlotte and Raleigh. What's bringing them is the lower cost of living, yes, but also good jobs. Banking and finance in Charlotte. Knowledge worker jobs in Research Triangle. And to be in contention for jobs like that, you are almost by definition, college educated -- if not more.

And what we have been seeing for years now is a stark -- an increasingly stark -- a growing divide when it comes to education and party affiliation. Generally speaking, better educated people are voting more and more D and less than less R.

Worf: Yeah, you point out in your article that in the past four years, North Carolina has gained 1.3 million new registered voters. That's more than 10% of our population. So within that, who is everyone after?

Kruse: The decisive voter that strategists and consultants have identified is something along the lines of a white, college-educated woman who lives in close-in suburbs of Charlotte and Raleigh, and is in a smaller and smaller slice of unaffiliated and undecided voter. That, they think, is going to make this race go one way or another.

Something that is driving this sort of voter away, potentially, from Donald Trump is just that: Is Donald Trump; is his rhetoric, is sort of the craziness of these last four years. We saw some of that in these spots, particularly in the Charlotte suburbs in the 2018 midterms.

For instance, where I'm sitting right now, before 2018, I was represented in the state legislature, in the House and the Senate and also county commission by three Republican men. I am now represented by three Democratic women. A lot of factors in that swing, including redrawing districts. But it suggests that this is where the electorate is headed in those critical pieces of political terrain.

Worf: And is it both a dynamic of new, more Democratic, though still unaffiliated voters moving here? And also people being swayed away from Trump with some of that rhetoric?

Kruse: Both of those things. But Republican consultants and strategists and the candidates, too, are hoping that some of the safety rhetoric, the "law and order" rhetoric that the president has been using more and more over these last couple of months is an issue that will appeal on some sort of gut level to these undecided female voters in the suburbs.

Worf: And what about the Democrats? I mean, what is their strategy to get these voters?

Kruse: It is their contention that these voters are not worried about law and order, about protests coming up to their suburbs. It is much simpler things that make up the day-to-day reality of so many of our lives at this point: When will my child be able to go back to school? Are we going to be able to stay healthy? Are we going to be able to keep our jobs and pay our bills?

Worf: And of course, there's the race for president. But we also have that closely watched Senate race and what appears to be a somewhat-close race for governor. Does it matter in these races who wins the very top of the ballot?

Kruse: It always does. The presidential matchup dictates the way that many people vote on down the ballot. I wonder this year how that dynamic is going to play out.

I'm wondering if some key suburban voters vote for the president, stay quiet about it, but in some way vote against the president, create a little bit of a check on that vote for the president by voting against somebody like Thom Tillis. The idea that if I vote for Cal Cunningham, send a Democrat to the Senate, I can more easily, with a conscience if nothing else, vote for Donald Trump to give him a check in Washington, in some sense.

The thing is, why this race, the Cunningham-Tillis race, is so, so important is that many analysts look at that race -- among a few others -- but look at that race as the potential swing for the control of the Senate.

Worf: That's Politico's Michael Kruse on WFAE's Morning Edition.

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