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North Carolina Politics Mirror Country


President Trump is headed to Charlotte, N.C., today to rally supporters for Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris. Harris is caught in a tight race in a former Republican stronghold against Democrat Dan McCready. NPR's Kelsey Snell has more on how major shifts in North Carolina politics mirror changes across America.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: For more than 50 years, voters in the 9th Congressional District of North Carolina have been sending Republicans to Congress. But things are changing. This year, Harris, a conservative Baptist minister, is slipping in the polls behind McCready, a Democrat and former Marine. David McLennan, a professor of political science at Meredith College, says the Trump rally is a sign that Republicans have to fight harder than they're used to.

DAVID MCLENNAN: And the fact that President Trump is coming in is a sign that they still see that race as winnable. It would have been inconceivable two decades ago for a Republican president to need to come into that district.

SNELL: McLennan says it's because of shifting demographics. People from other states and other countries are flocking to jobs in places like Raleigh, Durham and Charlotte. Young generations of farmers are doing it, too. He says, like the rest of America, Democrats in North Carolina dominate the cities and suburbs, but things change the further out you go.

MCLENNAN: You look at the political signs. I mean, you can almost see at a county line the shift between - you know, the Democratic signs are on one side of the county line. Then you move into another county, a more rural county, and all of a sudden, it's Trump country.

SNELL: The line isn't so clear in other areas, like Polk County, where the view of the political trend line depends on who you ask. County Commissioner Ray Gasperson says the area's about 60 percent Republican. But he's the only elected Democrat. And while he sees his party dominating in statewide offices in the future, that doesn't mean the entire state is turning blue.

RAY GASPERSON: We have a hundred counties. And at least 80 percent are very rural, which trend to go much more Republican.

SNELL: Polk County Republican Chairman Dick Shaughnessy says rural Republican voters like Trump.

DICK SHAUGHNESSY: I'm seeing a trend where there's a movement away from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party just because there is a lot of dissatisfaction with what has been going on at the national level.

SNELL: Trump's rally could be the closing pitch for Republicans who want to keep at least the 9th Congressional District from turning blue.

Kelsey Snell, NPR News, Polk County, N.C.


Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.
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