HomePoliticsTrump and Haley fight in North Carolina battlefield preview

Trump and Haley fight in North Carolina battlefield preview

By James Oliphant

GREENSBORO, North Carolina (Reuters) – Republican frontrunner Donald Trump and his last remaining rival Nikki Haley will clash in North Carolina on Saturday, ahead of a contest next week that could have profound implications for the November general election.

The North Carolina primaries are part of a Super Tuesday series of sixteen nominating contests that will bring Trump close to clinching the Republican nomination. It’s also the only race that day that will be held in a battleground state that could decide the next occupant of the White House.

Trump surpassed president Joe Biden in North Carolina in the 2020 election by 1.3 percentage points – about 75,000 votes – the smallest margin of any state he won.

Although Trump is heavily favored in Tuesday’s North Carolina primary, Haley’s performance should give a sense of his vulnerabilities in the state, especially among moderate and independent voters, said Thom Little, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina- Greensboro.

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Under state election rules, independents who are not affiliated with a party can vote in Republican primaries.

Those voters have been a source of strength for Haley in states like New Hampshire and South Carolina, where she scored about 40% of the vote.

Haley, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Trump, was scheduled to campaign in the Raleigh area on Saturday after visiting Charlotte on Friday evening.

Trump was expected to draw a much larger crowd for his rally at a Coliseum in Greensboro on Saturday.

Haley vowed to stay in the race last Tuesday, when 874 of the 2,429 delegates playing in the Republican primaries will be up for grabs. Trump is expected to win the vast majority of them, and his campaign has predicted he will clinch the nomination on March 12 or the following week.

Voters who turn out for Haley in North Carolina will have to decide in November whether to switch to Trump, stay home without voting or switch to Biden, Little said.

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Those voters would be targeted by both the Biden and Trump camps. Unaffiliated voters now make up a larger share of the southern state’s electorate than registered Democrats or Republicans.

β€œIt’s a state where both parties are going to spend a lot of time,” Little said. “And money.”

The last Democratic presidential candidate to win the state was Barack Obama in 2008. Both the Biden campaign and the main super PAC backing it, Future Forward, have identified North Carolina as a priority, along with other Sun Belt states such as Arizona and Georgia .

Early head-to-head polls show Trump leading Biden in North Carolina.

In January, Future Forward said it would involve the state in a massive $250 million ad buy ahead of the November election.

Biden traveled to North Carolina in January to tout infrastructure spending, and Vice President Kamala Harris discussed economic issues during a visit to the state on Friday.

Abortion has become a key issue in North Carolina after the Republican-dominated state legislature largely banned the procedure after 12 weeks last year. The Legislature overrode a veto of the measure by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper.

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Cooper is leaving office after two terms, and the election to replace him this year is also expected to be closely fought.

(Reporting by James Oliphant. Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt.; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Deepa Babington)

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