North Carolina’s geography is as diverse as its residents, and the state’s electoral importance has never been so important.
“North Carolina is ground zero in this election. In 2008 of all the states that went for Obama his margin was the smallest in North Carolina. Flip to 2012 and you have Romney winning North Carolina, but his margin was extremely small and so I think we would expect to see that in 2016,” said Chris Cooper, political science department head at Western Carolina University.
North Carolina’s nearly 10 million residents have over 75% of the population at voting age. Republicans have carried the state in 10 of the last 12 presidential elections.
“The urban-rural divide has long defined North Carolina and that has only been exacerbated by this election. Trump’s appeal is very strong is the rural areas yet in the urban areas they are definitely Hillary Clinton strongholds,” said Cooper.
Steven Greene, professor of political science at North Carolina State University said “this is going to be known as the Donald Trump election.
“He is such an unusual candidate, he’s performing far better than we would think from a candidate that violates so many of the norms,” he said. “I think we are going to pick the winner. If Donald Trump wins North Carolina he will be president, if Hillary Clinton win then she will be our next president.”
Political geography has always been important in understanding voting patterns in America.
“North Carolina is a microcosm of the country,” said Cooper, whose state holds the key to 15 electoral votes.
African-Americans made up 23% of North Carolina’s 2012 electorate and this year their vote could pick the winner.
“The turn out of African-Americans is going to be extremely important. In early voting it appears to be down from 2012. If the African-American turnout can bump up on Election Day that will be very important for Clinton,” said Cooper.
Tayvia Spratt is a 38-year-old nurse and living in Charlotte, the state’s largest city. Spratt supports Hillary Clinton.
“I feel Hillary is well-educated and aware of the issues going on in America especially with my race, African-American,” Spratt said.
Spratt is concerned about how close the election has been and she’s not shy about her opinion on Donald Trump.
“Donald Trump is a pompous, arrogant, entitled person that cares about himself, and his temperament is toxic to the United States. He doesn’t care about anybody other than the top 2%, and that definitely doesn’t align with my people at all,” she said. “To vote him in as our president would be the biggest, the greatest downfall for America.”
Another worry for Spratt is voter suppression.
In July, the NAACP won a three-year battle to overturn HB 369, a voter ID law, when the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the law’s provisions “were enacted with racially discriminatory intent” against blacks. The Supreme Court denied North Carolina’s appeal in August.
“Initially I had a big issue with ID’s not being required but I have a couple of friends that informed me of why it’s a good thing that identification isn’t required now. Mainly because of the elderly, many of them just don’t have an ID,” Spratt said.
Spratt thinks there was racism behind the law but she says that’s not surprising.
“We think that things have changed and yes some thing have but racism is alive,” she said.
Paul Faith, an environmental economist is also concerned about disenfranchised minority voters. Because of his worry, he has been driving a bus around the state’s cultural hub of Asheville with signs taped to the windows reading “Ride to the Polls.”
“For me personally, what’s driven me is all the shenanigans around voter registration and trying to keep minorities from voting and that made me upset so I’m trying to get people out to vote and not be kept down,” he said.
Jesse Maybin, a 32-year-old African-American, manages a printing shop in Asheville.
Maybin is undecided but knows one thing for certain.
“I’m just not voting for Trump, just can’t. I just can’t believe that we have gotten this far with Trump. That’s my biggest thing, I just don’t understand how we got here. I laughed it off when he said that he was running but he’s here,” he said.
Maybin’s opinion is not unique to Asheville residents or other African-American voters in the state. Though Maybin may vote for a third-party candidate, he hopes everyone hits the polls on November 8.
“The African-American vote is just as important as it always is. We should never sit out. Whether it’s a black president, a woman, a white. Every vote is important.”
Millennials at the polls
North Carolina’s changing demographics are as obvious as the seasons across the Tar Heel state. Today, there are now fewer native-born North Carolinians in the state than newcomers. Nearly half a million people moved to North Carolina since 2010, many of them millennials.
“I’m going to pick somebody for president but that’s not really what I’m worried about,” said 25-year-old Jason Hazinski of Raleigh.
Hazinski doesn’t have faith in the candidates and think the fame of politics is ruining the system.
“It’s just foolish, absolutely foolish. To think that they could run what could potentially be a beautiful country if we all worked together but they continue to destroy it and the world. It makes us all look like terrible people and I want to tell people that we are not terrible people,” he said.
Tanner Martinelli moved to Asheville four months ago from Colorado. He works at City Bakery and doesn’t like to talk about politics much but he is voting.
“I’ll be voting for Hillary Clinton because I feel that Donald Trump is a worse candidate,” said Martinelli.
Around Asheville, the latter is common sentence to overhear.
“To be honest, it’s about the lesser of two evils in my mind, and I know that’s sounds kind of rough. But simply put, Donald Trump is kind of mad and I don’t agree with a lot of what he says,” Martinelli said.
Eme Enyong is another millennial transplant to North Carolina. Six years ago she moved to Charlotte from Pennsylvania. Enyong is voting for Hillary Clinton.
“The things Trump has said about African-Americans, Latinos, women. It’s all caused a divide in this country,” said Eme Enyong.
Enyong says she is hopeful that her generation is taking this election serious and will vote.
“With the reputation that millennials a get about all kinds of things going on in the country I would hope that my demographic would go out and vote because who we vote for effects out foreseeable future and lives,” said Enyong.
Tar heels for Trump
“Lesser of the two evils,” said 69-year-old Jim Suttle of Forest City, North Carolina.
Jim and Mary Suttle both voted for Donald Trump.
“I think he is a strong man, a business man which we need that for our economy but to tell you the truth I’m not crazy about either one but he was my first choice,” said Mary Suttle.
The couple says they don’t know anyone in the rural region of the state who is voting for Clinton.
The Suttle’s are religious people and would like to see Trump watch some of the things he says but for Jim, there is no way he would have ever voted for Clinton.
“I don’t think a woman should have an authority over a man, that’s biblical and I just don’t think she is a good candidate,” said Jim Suttle.
Along with Trump, the Suttles’ think the election could be potentially rigged and they worry about their votes counting and making a difference.
“I don’t think the election should be decided by the Electoral College,” said Jim.
“I did my part, put my mark down. We want our vote to count,” said Mary Suttle.
The Suttle’s think Clinton will win the election.
On the border of Georgia is Franklin, North Carolina. Trump signs line the streets and support for the candidate is strong.
“I’m not ashamed to say I voted for Donald Trump. Hands down, I think he is going to make some changes if he is fortunate enough to get in there,” said Jim Anello.
Anello owns Protected Second, a gun shop in Franklin.
“We feel very strong about the Second Amendment and most of the people here are pro-gun and pro-Trump,” said Anello.
The Urban-rural divide that makes North Carolina a swing state and a snapshot of the country makes sense to Anello who is proudly supporting Donald Trump.
“In the rural communities people tend to be more conservative and pro gun, and possibly more Republican than Democrat. In the larger metro areas, you have a more diverse crowd of people and some of them obviously have different feelings on what their benefits should and should not be,” said Anello.