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Kamala Harris visit to Charlotte shows Biden campaign's focus on boosting turnout in Mecklenburg

Vice President Kamala Harris is coming to Charlotte on Thursday.
Abdul Aziz
/
For NPR
Vice President Kamala Harris is coming to Charlotte on Thursday.

Vice President Kamala Harris is coming to uptown Charlotte on Thursday to open the Biden campaign’s first campaign field office in the city.

Her visit is part of a big push by Democrats to win North Carolina, the state that was former President Trump’s narrowest victory in 2020. It’s also meant to energize Mecklenburg County, which is home to the most registered Democrats in the state.

For the November election, only seven states are expected to be competitive: Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Biden won all of them except North Carolina, which Trump carried by 1.3 percentage points or about 75,000 votes.

David Berrios, the state director for the Biden campaign, said it’s “not by accident” that Harris is coming to Charlotte.

“We are taking Charlotte and Mecklenburg County as a whole, and Black voters as a whole, seriously,” he said.

Over the last 20 years, Mecklenburg County has become increasingly blue, with Democrats holding almost all local offices.

But in recent elections, the county has meant missed opportunities rather than triumphs for Democrats as turnout has lagged other urban counties in North Carolina.

Political coverage of North Carolina often focuses on the Democratic Party’s ascending coalition — young voters, minority voters, and college-educated professionals. The general narrative is that this group will finally have a breakthrough to win a presidential or U.S. Senate race. In this series, we look at why this hasn’t happened.

In the 2022 midterms, Mecklenburg turnout was among the lowest in the state. Wake County, for instance, had 56% of its voters cast a ballot for the U.S. Senate race between Democrat Cheri Beasley and Republican Ted Budd. In Mecklenburg County, only 45% showed up at the polls.

Budd won by about 3 percentage points.

And in last month’s primary, only three North Carolina counties had worse turnout than Mecklenburg.

Turnout has lagged in heavily African American precincts. Berrios said that will be a focus this fall.

“We know Black voters aren’t a monolith, and they shouldn’t be treated as such,” he said. “We know how folks feel when campaigns ignore them up until the election and in the final stretch of a campaign. We’re not doing that, right?”

The Biden campaign says it will open 10 other North Carolina field offices over the next two weeks. Harris and Biden have made numerous visits to the state.

And North Carolina has been part of a $25 million TV ad campaign in swing states that started last fall.

The N.C. Democratic party has raised $5.26 million for its state and federal campaign accounts. The state Republican Party, meanwhile, has raised over $3.34 million across its accounts.

The investment in North Carolina appears to be the biggest Democrats have made since the Obama years in 2008 and 2012.

Obama won the state in 2008 with a razor-thin 0.3% margin. That was the Democrat’s last presidential win in North Carolina.

In 2012, Obama also invested heavily in North Carolina, and the Democratic National Convention was held in Charlotte. Despite that, Republican candidate Mitt Romney carried the state.

The 2024 investment appears to be the largest Democrats have made in the state since then.

And it’s certainly larger than the on-the-ground presence Democrats had during the coronavirus pandemic when they restricted voter outreach.

“So in 2020, you know, as far as operations were concerned it was mostly at a virtual level, for obvious reasons,” Berrios said.

Mecklenburg Democratic Party chair Drew Kromer said he’s been able to hire new full-time paid staff, who will help the Biden campaign

“We are going to have a staff presence that is four or five times the size that it was last time,” he said.

Still, the Biden campaign is running into headwinds. Polls have consistently shown Trump leading in North Carolina. A Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday shows the ex-president ahead by six, 49% to 43%.

Matt Mercer, a spokesman for the North Carolina Republican Party, said in a statement that Trump and his campaign are “executing at a high level irrespective of media narratives.” He pointed to the ex-president raising nearly $66 million in March.

Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.
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