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Politics & Government

Obama To Join Clinton On The Campaign Trail In Charlotte

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And later today President Barack Obama will join Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail for the first time. It's an event that will get a lot of attention and one that many would expect to happen in a key battleground state, say, like Ohio or Florida, but it's not. For his first campaign stop with Hillary Clinton, the president's going to North Carolina. To find out why, we turned to Tom Bullock from member station WFAE in Charlotte.

TOM BULLOCK, BYLINE: It's a fair question, and one recently posed to White House spokesman Josh Earnest. He answered this way.

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JOSH EARNEST: The president in 2008 did win the state of North Carolina. He was the first Democrat in some time to do so.

BULLOCK: By less than 1 percent.

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EARNEST: Obviously, the president decided to hold the Democratic Convention in Charlotte, N.C., in 2012.

BULLOCK: Mitt Romney went on to win the state, but by less than 2 percent. Still, during President Obama's time in office, Republicans have taken over every branch of North Carolina's government, the first time they've done so in a century. But all that doesn't mean North Carolina is a deep, red state, says Susan Roberts, a political scientist with Davidson College.

SUSAN ROBERTS: Despite what you read in the headlines, there are progressives in North Carolina.

BULLOCK: The Tarheel state is home to both a large African-American and growing Latino population. There's also been an influx of college-educated white voters to Charlotte and other cities - all seen as key groups for the Clinton campaign. And Democrats here outnumber Republicans by a healthy margin. Political scientist Susan Roberts says a good number of these voters have grown frustrated with the actions of the state legislature.

ROBERTS: The list is long of things that North Carolina has passed in recent years in terms of voting rights, restrictions and terms of restricting access to abortion.

BULLOCK: There's also North Carolina's controversial House bill, too, which among other things limit civil rights protections for LGBT people and stops localities from increasing the minimum wage - all key issues for Hillary Clinton's campaign, says Susan Roberts.

ROBERTS: I think that she can address more national issues that are linked to North Carolina but play to a national audience.

BULLOCK: There's another possible reason North Carolina was picked for the first joint Obama-Clinton campaign stop. And it has to do with the only number that matters in presidential politics - 270, the number of Electoral College votes needed to win the White House. Most projections show that if Donald Trump is to win the presidency, he all but must win North Carolina first. Brian Fallon is with the Clinton campaign.

BRIAN FALLON: North Carolina is a state that Donald Trump simply can't afford to lose, and yet we think it's a prime pick-up opportunity for us.

BULLOCK: As for North Carolina Democrats, they are clearly giddy to host a sitting president and their party's de facto nominee to replace him. Joining Clinton and Obama on stage will be many of the state's top Democratic candidates hoping to capitalize on the moment. For NPR News, I'm Tom Bullock in Charlotte, N.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.