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Trump and Marjorie Taylor Greene are heading to NC. Here’s what that tells us.

The News & Observer
The News & Observer
 13 days ago

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Hi, it’s Will Doran again. In last week’s newsletter I told y’all that election season was about to heat up in North Carolina.

Today I’m back to remind you about just how right I was.

In just the last week:

▪ Former President George W. Bush spoke at PNC Arena in Raleigh , raising money for Scouting as some of the state’s most prominent business leaders, Republican politicians and conservative donors rubbed elbows. (I was there, and if you want to hear more than what’s in my story, check out our Under The Dome podcast when it drops Monday morning).

▪ First Lady Jill Biden was in Greensboro , talking about how congressional Democrats’ pandemic stimulus package helped education, and putting third-graders to sleep (OK, just making one of them yawn a lot in a memorable video clip).

▪ Former President Donald Trump announced he’ll be holding a rally in Wilmington for U.S. Senate candidate Ted Budd .

Wake County Republicans announced they’re bringing firebrand QAnon supporter Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from Georgia to Cary, for a Great Gatsby-themed gala.

The last two announcements there, about Trump and Greene, struck me as interesting — especially in light of a media briefing Duke University held that around a dozen print, TV and radio journalists attended earlier in the week.

They spoke to us for over an hour, touching on topics like immigration and inflation. But the main takeaway was this: The only reason Democrats have any shot at races like North Carolina’s U.S. Senate seat is because the Supreme Court just overturned Roe v. Wade , hurting Republicans with swing voters.

Mac McCorkle , a longtime Democratic operative who now teaches at Duke, said that if inflation had been the main issue, it “would’ve been bad for Democrats.” But because abortion rights are now on the ballot, many undecided voters and even moderate Republicans might now vote Democratic.

He added that the shifting national narrative seemed to have thrown off Budd’s strategy against Democrat Cheri Beasley .

“I think the Budd people are a little bit in crisis, in trying to figure out what their message is,” McCorkle said Tuesday. “Is he a generic R? Or is he a Trump Republican? And that’s the problem — between turnout or getting swing voters.”

I doubt the former president was listening in on that meeting. But right on cue, Trump answered McCorkle’s question the very next day, announcing his Wilmington rally for the Budd campaign.

Doubling down on the conservative wing

What McCorkle meant when he said Budd had to pick between “turnout or getting swing voters” is that candidates typically pick one of two strategies: appealing to moderates and winning some voters from the other party, even if it might annoy their base, or appealing to the base and hoping to really energize their side, even if it turns off moderates.

Budd has now doubled down on energizing conservatives — not just with the Trump rally, but also by backing South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham ’s bill to ban abortion after 15 weeks nationwide, as Avi Bajpai reported.

That would cut more than a month off North Carolina’s abortion restrictions (last updated by Republican lawmakers in 2015). We currently ban abortion at 20 weeks.

So, a few days later, McCorkle’s assessment no longer rings true: Budd does seem to have decided his strategy.

If Republicans have determined that they don’t need to worry about moderates (either because they think abortion will have them all voting Democratic no matter what, or they think inflation will have them all voting Republican no matter what) then there might be less risk in doing things that could turn off moderates, like hosting Trump and Greene.

Either way, the Duke panelists all said the fact that it’s even a question which way the election will go makes this year very different from past midterms.

“Young women may feel threatened by this recent decision, and we may see an uptick in turnout among young folks,” said Kerry Haynie , dean of the social sciences at Duke, whose research focuses on the role of women and African Americans in politics. “We know historically that young folks are not likely to turn out in elections, and especially in midterm elections. But this case may be a motivating factor for young folks, and especially young women, to turn out.”

Other stories from our team

Trains that had been canceled in North Carolina because of an impending railroad worker strike were put back on schedule after the companies and workers reached an agreement, Richard Stradling reported.

▪ Beasley and Budd have agreed to at least one debate, on Spectrum on Oct. 7 , the Charlotte Observer’s Will Wright reported.

▪ Many local police departments are struggling to hire bilingual officers as North Carolina’s Hispanic population booms — and are now offering signing bonuses to solve that problem, Aaron Sanchez-Guerra reported.

— By Will Doran, reporter for The News & Observer. Email me at wdoran@newsobserver.com and follow me on Twitter @will_doran.

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