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In North Carolina, Stakes Are Just As High In Down-Ballot Races


We're going to go now to North Carolina, where races for president and U.S. Senate often serve as a national bellwether. That's why hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign spending have poured in. But further down the ballot, the stakes are just as high. From member station WUNC, Jeff Tiberii has this report.


JEFF TIBERII, BYLINE: The marching band from historically Black Shaw University laid down the beat as vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris clapped her hands during a recent campaign stop.


TIBERII: Welcome to North Carolina, a swingy, purple, squishy coin flip of a tossup state where control of the White House, Congress and Supreme Court could all be decided.


KAMALA HARRIS: There is so much about what happens in North Carolina as a bellwether, as a measure for what's going on in our country, both in terms of its historical strength, but also in terms of the challenges.

CHRIS COOPER: You know, North Carolina has been described as perhaps the most critical state in the country to - in determining who our next president is going to be.

TIBERII: Chris Cooper teaches political science at Western Carolina University. For decades, this was a reliably red state for presidential candidates. Then in 2008, Barack Obama carried North Carolina by just 14,000 votes. Four years later, his closest victory wilted to his most narrow defeat.

COOPER: We're not just a swing state. There's a number of swing states around the country. But, I mean, we're swinging so much that the hinge is almost broken off.

TIBERII: Donald Trump won the state in 2016, when unaffiliated voters broke late in his favor. Now, any chance for reelection all but requires another victory here.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'm thrilled to be in Fayetteville with thousands of loyal, hard-working American patriots.

TIBERII: Recent polls show a dead heat in the state. Trump, Democratic nominee Joe Biden, as well as running mates and surrogates have touched down here often. Meanwhile, in a contest that could be the tipping point for power in the U.S. Senate, Republican incumbent Thom Tillis trails Democrat Cal Cunningham. And while much of the attention is focused on the top of the ticket, the greatest political prize may loom further down the ballot, something Biden mentioned at a drive in rally last weekend.


JOE BIDEN: Look. Your governor has been working hard to expand Medicaid, but it's being blocked by Republican legislature. My plan will automatically enroll 357,000 uninsured North Carolinians in a public option for free automatically.


TIBERII: Republicans won both chambers of the legislature in 2010 for the first time since Reconstruction. Republicans have done pretty much whatever they wanted for the past decade - overhauling the tax code, gerrymandering. And then there was that whole transgender bathroom bill. Along with New Hampshire, North Carolina is the only state with presidential, U.S. Senate, gubernatorial and all state legislative seats on the ballot this fall. For the past four years, it has been a constant fight between the legislature and Democratic Governor Roy Cooper.


ROY COOPER: If I believe that laws passed by the legislature hurt working families and are unconstitutional, they will see me in court. And they don't have a very good track record there.

TIBERII: But the trajectory of health care, education funding and non-partisan redistricting could change if Democrats take back either or both chambers. The stakes are incredibly high, and the money is astonishing. Legislative seats pay less than $14,000 a year. However, several key races are seeing millions of dollars in spending. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Tiberii in Raleigh, N.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Tiberii first started posing questions to strangers after dinner at La Cantina Italiana, in Massachusetts, when he was two-years-old. Jeff grew up in Wayland, Ma., an avid fan of the Boston Celtics, and took summer vacations to Acadia National Park (ME) with his family. He graduated from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University with a degree in Broadcast Journalism, and moved to North Carolina in 2006. His experience with NPR member stations WAER (Syracuse), WFDD (Winston-Salem) and now WUNC, dates back 15 years.