Trump on minds— if not bal­lots— of vot­ers in NC

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY TIM FUNK AND JIM MOR­RILL [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com jmor­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

At a rally in Mis­souri this fall, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump made clear how he sees Tues­day’s elec­tion.

“Get out in 2018,” he told Repub­li­can sup­port­ers, “be­cause you’re vot­ing for me in 2018.”

And for many Democrats, it’s a chance to vote against him.

Trump may not be on the bal­lot, but in North Carolina and else­where, he’s mo­ti­vat­ing vot­ers on both sides.

“He’s my main rea­son (for vot­ing),” said Karen Hamp­ton, 49, a Matthews Demo­crat. “Just to check the pres­i­dent is im­por­tant. We need a bet­ter bal­ance.”

He’s also why Sandy Haus­feld, 55, is vot­ing.

“We love our pres­i­dent,” the Mooresville Repub­li­can said at a Trump rally last month in Char- lotte. “We need to keep the House and the Se­nate. He’s do­ing great things, but he needs some help.”

A sit­ting pres­i­dent and his record are of­ten an is­sue in midterm elec­tions. His­tor­i­cally, that’s of­ten meant a loss of con­gres­sional seats for the pres­i­dent’s party. But in­ter­views with vot­ers and polls sug­gest Trump is a big­ger fac­tor than ear­lier pres­i­dents.

They also re­flect the deep po­lar­iza­tion that ap­pears to be fu­el­ing a record turnout for midterms in North Carolina and across the coun­try.

An NPR/PBS/Marist poll re­leased last month showed about two-thirds of vot­ers said Trump was a fac­tor this year. Close to half, 44 per­cent, said he was a ma­jor fac­tor. Dur­ing

the last midterm, in 2014, only 28 per­cent said Pres­i­dent Barack Obama was a ma­jor fac­tor in their vote.

Trump’s sched­ule of nearly daily cam­paign events around the coun­try has in­cluded two in Char­lotte: a rally and a fundraiser, both de­signed to boost the prospects of GOP con­gres­sional can­di­dates Mark Har­ris and Ted Budd.

Har­ris is run­ning against Demo­crat Dan McCready in North Carolina’s 9th District, which stretches from south Char­lotte to Cum­ber­land County.

It’s been rep­re­sented by Repub­li­cans for decades and Trump car­ried it by nearly 12 per­cent­age points in 2016. But the Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­port and a New York Times Up­shot/Siena Col­lege poll last week rated the race a tossup.

In North Carolina over­all, it’s not clear whether Trump will end up help­ing the Repub­li­cans — or the Democrats — on the bal­lot.

Last week a Spec­trum News sur­vey found that 45 per­cent of North Carolini­ans are more likely to vote Demo­cratic be­cause of Trump, while 30 per­cent are more likely to vote Repub­li­can. The find­ing mir­rors some na­tional polls.

But midterms in North Carolina gen­er­ally see a higher per­cent­age of reg­is­tered Repub­li­cans at the polls than reg­is­tered Democrats, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis by Michael Bitzer, a Catawba Col­lege po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist.

In Wash­ing­ton and Raleigh, the stakes are high.

Democrats have to flip 23 seats to re­claim con­trol of the 435-mem­ber U.S. House. They need four seats in the state House and six in the Se­nate to give Demo­cratic Gov. Roy Cooper more clout by break­ing GOP su­per-ma­jori­ties that all but nul­lify his ve­toes.

A new Mered­ith Col­lege poll found North Carolina Democrats ex­pand­ing their lead in polls ask­ing vot­ers which party they fa­vor in both con­gres­sional and leg­isla­tive races. It also found Demo­cratic vot­ers slightly more ex­cited about the elec­tion than Repub­li­cans.

Don’t tell that to Ted Eb­ner, a Char­lotte Repub­li­can who voted early at Mor­ri­son Re­gional Li­brary. He was one of about two-dozen vot­ers in­ter­viewed by the Observer.

“I just think Trump’s per­for­mance has been fan­tas­tic,” said Eb­ner, 75. “We can’t sit on our lau­rels.”

‘HE DOES IT’

Ex­cite­ment for the pres­i­dent was pal­pa­ble at last month’s Trump rally at Bo­jan­gles’ Coli­seum. San­dra Thig­pen was there wear­ing a pink “Women for Mark Har­ris” T-shirt. One rea­son she plans to vote for the GOP con­gres­sional can­di­date: He’ll help the pres­i­dent and sup­port his agenda.

“I’m go­ing to vote straight Repub­li­can so they can get some­thing done in Wash­ing­ton,” said Thig­pen, 69, of Char­lotte.

Be­sides Trump’s past suc­cess as a busi­ness­man, she be­lieves he un­der­stands and rep­re­sents peo­ple like her who have felt left be­hind by politi­cians.

“He speaks for the lit­tle per­son,” she said. “When I saw him in Rock Hill (in 2016), I about cried: He’s the man we need in of­fice.”

Repub­li­can Linda Harr of Hun­tersville wore a knit “MAGA pussy hat” to the rally. The MAGA hats, for “Make Amer­ica Great Again,” were red, white and blue — not the pink worn by women who marched against Trump by the hun­dreds of thou­sands last year.

“Jobs, jobs, jobs,” Harr said, ex­plain­ing one rea­son for her sup­port. “Peo­ple are mak­ing more money and spend­ing more money.”

Bill Wil­liamson, 42, who lives in Steele Creek, is reg­is­tered un­af­fil­i­ated but said he tends to vote Repub­li­can.

At the Char­lotte rally, he wore a T-shirt back­ing Trump’s war of words with CNN and said it’s “an ex­tra mo­ti­va­tion” to go to the polls this year know­ing that his vote will help the pres­i­dent.

“If he says he’s go­ing to do some­thing, he does it,” Wil­liamson said about Trump. “I haven’t seen that in pol­i­tics in my life­time.”

‘PER­FECT STORM’

Trump has fu­eled turnout and ac­tivism on the other side too.

He mo­ti­vated Carolyn Eberly not only to vote, but to or­ga­nize.

Last month the for­mer chemist from Wax­haw was fea­tured in a cover story for Time mag­a­zine on anti-Trump groups. Af­ter the 2016 elec­tion, she started a chap­ter of the re­sis­tance group In­di­vis­i­ble in the 9th Con­gres­sional District.

Now she and her friends are knock­ing on doors for Demo­crat McCready.

“All of us are in for dif­fer­ent rea­sons,” she told the Observer. “But the un­der­ly­ing rea­sons have to do with the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion’s poli­cies.”

Karen Wil­son, 60, who lives in Dil­worth, is an un­af­fil­i­ated voter who has voted for Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates. A nurse who also serves in the Army Re­serves, she said there are a lot of rea­sons to vote this year, in­clud­ing the pro­posed N.C. con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments. But she also wants her voice against Trump to be heard.

“He’s prob­a­bly the worst pres­i­dent I’ve ever ex­pe­ri­enced,” she said. “He’s not well-versed in any­thing. He takes credit for the econ­omy, but the deficit is swelling.”

Avis Meeks, a west Char­lotte Demo­crat, wanted to vote early so she could be among those turn­ing out to ob­ject to what’s hap­pen­ing in Wash­ing­ton and in Raleigh. She blames Trump for rais­ing racial ten­sions with his words.

“He called him­self a na­tion­al­ist,” said Meeks, who is African-Amer­i­can. “What word usu­ally goes be­fore na­tion­al­ist? na­tion­al­ist.”

Demo­crat Mel Bat­tle, who lives in My­ers Park, called Trump “an in­sti­ga­tor of may­hem.”

“We need more re­spon­si­ble gov­ern­ment than we’re get­ting,” said Bat­tle, 84. “I find (Trump’s) rhetoric to not be very help­ful in solv­ing prob­lems.”

‘JUST FRUS­TRATED’

It’s not just Democrats who are turned off by the pres­i­dent. Around the coun­try and in North Carolina, there are signs that some vot­ers in sub­ur­ban con­gres­sional dis­tricts who have voted Repub­li­can in the past have soured on Trump be­cause of rhetoric and be­hav­ior they don’t con­sider pres­i­den­tial.

These vot­ers could hurt Repub­li­can can­di­dates like Har­ris who have pledged to sup­port Trump and his agenda.

“I’m go­ing to vote McCready, I’m just frus­trated with Repub­li­cans,” Suzanne DiOrio, 46, a per­sonal trainer, told McClatchy.

Asked at an early-vot­ing site in south­east Char­lotte to name the last Repub­li­can she voted for, she replied, “That would be Trump.”

She saw the 2016 cam­paign as a choice be­tween the lesser of two evils, and was “tired of the Clin­tons.” But now, she said, “I’m not happy at all,” point­ing to Trump’s “tone, rhetoric.”

Asked if she re­grets her vote for the pres­i­dent, she replied, “A lit­tle, yes. But that’s why I’m here.”

An­a­lysts say Repub­li­can vot­ers stick­ing with the party in 2018 point to a surg­ing econ­omy. Democrats, mean­while, talk about is­sues such as So­cial Se­cu­rity and health care.

“(Trump) is the rea­son the Demo­cratic base is so fired up,” said David Wasser­man of the Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­port. “But Demo­cratic can­di­dates have ac­tu­ally gained the most ground talk­ing about health­care and pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions, not Trump.”

State Sen. Jeff Jack­son, cam­paign­ing for his own re-elec­tion, has seen that close up.

“I knocked on a lot of doors this sum­mer and I didn’t meet any­one with a tem­pered view of the pres­i­dent,” said Jack­son, a Char­lotte Demo­crat. “Ev­ery­one has strong feel­ings one way or the other.”

DIEDRA LAIRD [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump pre­pares to speak last month at a cam­paign rally at Bo­jan­gles’ Coli­seum. He’s not on the bal­lot, but he’s mo­ti­vat­ing vot­ers on both sides.

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