Biden pushes economic message in North Carolina as aides see 2024 pickup opportunity

President Joe Biden and his campaign are eyeing a plan to put North Carolina as a potential pickup opportunity in November as the president brought his economic pitch to Raleigh on Thursday.

Biden visited the Tar Heel State on official “Bidenomics” business, announcing $82 million in new investments through the American Rescue Plan to connect thousands of North Carolina homes and businesses to high-speed internet. It’s another White House effort to highlight their work to lower costs for Americans at a time when many voters remain deeply skeptical of Biden’s economic policies – a recent ABC News/Ipsos poll found only 31% of voters approve of Biden’s handling of the economy.

“Look, our goal is to connect everyone in America to affordable, reliable high-speed internet by the year 2030 – everyone in America, just like Franklin Roosevelt did a generation ago with electricity,” Biden told the audience. “I promised to be president for all America, whether you voted for me or not. These investments help all Americans in red states and blue states as well. We’re not leaving anybody behind.”

But the trip also comes as the campaign is mapping out its electoral path to a second term. Biden’s team and Democratic strategists believe they have a chance to flip the state blue for the first time in 16 years. The last Democratic presidential candidate to win North Carolina was Barack Obama in 2008 when he beat John McCain by 0.3 percentage points. Before that, it was Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Biden came close to winning the state in 2020 when he lost to former President Donald Trump by 1.3 percentage points, giving some Democrats hope that a November rematch could move in the president’s favor.

“He has assured me that we are in their sphere of states that they’re going to pay a lot of attention to,” said North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a member of the Biden campaign’s national advisory board. “I believe strongly that not only will President Biden be reelected, but I think he will win North Carolina. And we’re going to do everything we can to see that he does.”

There is some skepticism over whether the state is truly a pickup opportunity for Biden in November. The state has undergone some demographic changes since Obama’s 2008 victory. The state’s population is aging, which the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management attributes to the “aging of the Baby Boom generation,” “increase in life expectancy,” and “the migration of individuals from other states and abroad.”

“At some point he’s going to do what candidates in this state have done really since Barack Obama was running, which is eventually write off North Carolina as not winnable for a Democrat,” said Brent Woodcox, a GOP activist who works with Republicans in the state legislature.

Still, the Biden campaign has signaled its hope to expand the gains made by Democrats in 2020 to North Carolina early in the 2024 campaign. It included the state in its early slate of television advertisements, and earlier this month, the campaign hired staff to run the state operations, including David Berrios as state campaign manager and L.T. McCrimmon and Scott Falmlen as senior advisers.

Biden’s trip to North Carolina marks his first 2024 stop in a battleground state that’s not Pennsylvania, where he’s traveled three times already this year. It follows Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Charlotte last week to discuss gun violence prevention.

“We expect North Carolina to be extremely competitive,” said Quentin Fulks, principal deputy campaign manager for the Biden campaign. “That’s why we have invested early – both in paid and in our infrastructure – and are running an aggressive operation that builds on years of significant investments in the state.”

While Biden is heading to North Carolina with an economic pitch this week, his team also views abortion as a galvanizing issue for Tarheel State voters and will argue the state has been directly affected by the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. The state’s GOP-controlled legislature passed a 12-week abortion ban last year, overriding Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the bill. The issue could also be key in down-ballot races in the state, including what’s expected to be one of the country’s most competitive gubernatorial races in 2024.

Changing demographics

Democratic strategists argue the state’s demographics are moving in the right direction for their party, pointing to growth in the Raleigh/Durham and Charlotte metro areas where Biden performed well against Trump.

Campaign and Democratic officials have their eyes on boosting support among suburban voters and Black voters in the coming months, and there’s a recognition that Democrats need to make inroads in rural areas that leaned towards Trump in 2020.

Anderson Clayton, the 26-year-old chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party, is from Roxboro, a rural community north of Raleigh. She’s zeroing in on selling the president’s accomplishments – like the bipartisan infrastructure law – to rural communities, Black voters and young voters.

“People look at me all the time, and they’re like, ‘Dang, Anderson, you’re 26 now girlfriend. Why on earth do you feel so passionate about organizing for someone who is 80 years old?’” Clayton said. “Because I am from a rural part of this state that is desolate right now. And people that live there deserve to have a future.”

The Biden campaign has started some early outreach to Black voters in rural communities, running two ads on Black-owned television and digital outlets featuring a personal testimonial from a Black farmer touting the benefits of Biden’s policies.

“A lot of Black farmers are just barely hanging on. Joe Biden gets it,” said Patrick Brown, who manages the Brown Family Farm in Henderson, North Carolina, in one of the ads. “The laws the Biden-Harris administration has passed directly address our community.”

A focus on HBCUs

The Biden campaign has also turned to digital ads to tout investments in historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), including geotargeting the spots around college homecoming events at North Carolina Central University, North Carolina A&T University and South Carolina State University in neighboring South Carolina.

Douglas Wilson, a political strategist who serves on the board of the New Rural Project working to engage voters in rural communities, said those types of messages, along with promoting economic initiatives to help Black entrepreneurs and communities, could help with support from Black voters at a time when Biden is experiencing some signs of strains in a key part of his coalition.

“Black voters expected a lot of things to be accomplished in the first four years, and some of it hasn’t been, but a lot of it has been accomplished,” Wilson said. “I’m glad the president is coming in and starting to do that now as early as possible because it’s going to require a large effort to make sure that message continues to get out.”

He added, “I think as we go along, and it’s more evident and clear that Donald Trump more than likely will be the Republican nominee, I do think that voters will eventually come home to the president.”

Democratic wishful thinking?

Democrats making a play for North Carolina in 2024 is “wishful thinking,” said Woodcox.

“At this point in the campaign, it’s perfectly appropriate for a campaign to try to expand their map as large as they possibly can,” Woodcox said, but added that expanding into North Carolina “is probably going to be counterproductive.”

“Since 2008, North Carolina is a grayer, older state – and older voters have tended to go to the Republican Party. So, he’s not running in the same state that Barack Obama was running in,” Woodcox added.

Clayton argued the key for Biden and Harris heading into November will simply be “showing up.”

‘I meet folks all the time on the ground right now that are just like, ‘I just want to know who I’m voting for. I want to be able to shake their hand and I want to be educated by them,’” said Clayton. “People want to hear from him. They want to hear from the vice president. They want to know that North Carolina is important, and Democrats here don’t feel like we’re forgotten in any part of the state.”

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