US Elections 2016: Final countdown

North Carolina: Swinging the votes in a southern state

Latino voters at a Democratic rally in Charlotte last week. North Carolina used to be a "comfortable" Republican state, but urban centres such as Raleigh, Charlotte and Durham are growing rapidly, attracting people with different political views and
Latino voters at a Democratic rally in Charlotte last week. North Carolina used to be a "comfortable" Republican state, but urban centres such as Raleigh, Charlotte and Durham are growing rapidly, attracting people with different political views and turning it into one of the new battleground states.ST PHOTO: MELISSA SIM
Latino voters at a Democratic rally in Charlotte last week. North Carolina used to be a "comfortable" Republican state, but urban centres such as Raleigh, Charlotte and Durham are growing rapidly, attracting people with different political views and
Supporters listening to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during a campaign event at North Carolina's High Point University. The state is vital to Mr Trump's election hopes.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
EXPERIENCE COUNTS - "Right now, we just need the best person qualified for the job and that best person is Hillary. I would prefer someone who has done this for the last 30 years over someone who is just getting into it." - MRS SHIRLEY JONES, 62, ret
EXPERIENCE COUNTS - "Right now, we just need the best person qualified for the job and that best person is Hillary. I would prefer someone who has done this for the last 30 years over someone who is just getting into it." - MRS SHIRLEY JONES, 62, retired teacher, onwhyshe is voting for Mrs Hillary Clinton.
RELIGION AND IMMIGRATION IMPORTANT ISSUES - "Gay marriage, I’m not for it, I don’t think it’s right. If God was for it, instead of Adam and Eve, He would have created Adam and Steve...I have friends who are Mexican, they take care of the famili
RELIGION AND IMMIGRATION IMPORTANT ISSUES - "Gay marriage, I’m not for it, I don’t think it’s right. If God was for it, instead of Adam and Eve, He would have created Adam and Steve...I have friends who are Mexican, they take care of the families and I like them, but when they come over here illegally, and we give them free insurance and money and education, ain’t nothing free in this world." - MR JACKELLER, 55, truck driver, onwhyissues like religion and immigration have convinced him to vote forMr Donald Trump.

The margin of victory in North Carolina is likely to be as slim as at the last two presidential elections

Sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch of a restaurant in the town of Faith, North Carolina, Mr Jack Eller, 55, laments the changes around him.

"Ten years ago, I see a car go by, I knew who it was, I don't know these people now," said the truck driver, who was born and raised in the south. A hunter all his life, he wants an America where gun rights are not an issue, gay marriage does not exist and illegal immigrants are not given handouts.

In November, there is only one name on the ballot for him - Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. "I say what I think, that is the way I grew up, he says what he thinks... he's a non-politician, that's why I would vote for him," he said.

Although Mr Eller regrets it, change is unmistakeable in North Carolina. The urban centres such as Raleigh, Charlotte and Durham are growing rapidly, attracting people with different political views and turning the state into one of the newest battleground states to emerge in recent years.

At the last two presidential elections, margins of victory here were slim. The results of this election are likely to come down to the wire again with a confluence of factors in play, including the Bathroom Bill - which, among other things, restricts transgender individuals to public toilets that correspond with the gender on their birth certificates - and the recent racial riots sparked by a police shooting in September.

When Mrs Michelle Obama held a rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, last week, more than a thousand people turned up in the middle of the day just to hear her speak.

KEY SWING STATE

North Carolina is important because it is one of the few states that could vote for either candidate, so both candidates have a lot of incentive to put a lot of time, a lot of campaign spending here, because shifting a few votes to their side could win them the state.

PROFESSOR ERIC HEBERLIG, from the department of political science and public administration at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Campaigning on behalf of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Mrs Obama pointed out that her husband had won the state by about 14,000 votes, which works out to just two votes per precinct. "Do you hear that? If they had gone the other way or stayed at home, Barack would have lost the state," she said, firing up the crowd.

Her words hit home with housewife Tania Castillero, 46. "If we get all our friends and family to vote, we could make the difference," said the US citizen originally from Panama. It's voters like Ms Castillero who could tip the scales in favour of the Democrats as there is a growing Hispanic and African-American population, said experts.

North Carolina used to be a "comfortable red state", with many fiscal and social conservatives, said assistant professor of political science Aaron Houck from Queens University of Charlotte. But, he said, the newcomers are "more liberal than the traditional voter".

The large black community, which forms around 22 per cent of the state's population - compared with the national average of about 13 per cent - carried Mr Obama to the finish line in 2008, but these voters seem to have less enthusiasm for Mrs Clinton. But, by the same token, Mr Trump is not pulling the evangelical vote as convincingly as previous Bible-quoting candidates may have done.

Currently, the RealClearPolitics average predicts that Mrs Clinton has a 2.6 percentage point advantage in the state.

"But if there are white voters out there, who are low-information, low-participation voters, if they turn out in support of Donald Trump in a way that hasn't been captured in the polls, that could turn the election in a surprising way," said Dr Houck.

He said: "A combination of Hillary Clinton and what she brings to the table and some of Donald Trump's comments may bring some women voters to Hillary Clinton's camp. (At this point in the race)... it's more a question of who gets out their supporters."

While the candidates themselves may not have been able to excite voters, recent news events such as the passing of the Bathroom Bill and the race riots sparked by the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott might give voters the impetus to cast their ballot.

An issue like the shooting may affect the turnout in more ways than one, said Professor Eric Heberlig from the department of political science and public administration at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

If attention is focused on law-and- order issues, this may work in favour of Mr Trump, who is seen as tough on that front. However, "if Republicans hit the law-and-order theme too hard... African Americans could see that message as targeted at them, and that could spur them to turn out in order to register their dissatisfaction," said Dr Heberlig.

As the campaigns enter the final few weeks, political analysts will continue to keep a close eye on North Carolina as it could provide a good indication of who might ultimately win the presidency.

North Carolina went to Republican Mitt Romney in 2012 and, in order for Mr Trump to win the presidency this year, he must pull in all the states Mr Romney won - and more. "Hillary can really win without us and Trump really can't," said Dr Heberlig.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2016, with the headline 'Swinging the votes in a southern state'. Print Edition | Subscribe