Trump, Clinton battle for North Carolina

Story highlights

  • NC professor: 'For Donald Trump it is an absolute must-win state'
  • Polls show a tight race

Raleigh, North Carolina (CNN)It's a red state that went blue in 2008. Then switched back to red again in 2012.

And now North Carolina, which some here call "the perfect shade of violet" is again a true toss up: it is either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton's state to lose.
    On the ground in North Carolina, the rubber is meeting the road, with both candidates zeroing in on the battleground state for a win that could prove pivotal to each of their path to the presidency.
    "If Hillary Clinton wins North Carolina, it is almost a sure thing she's won the election. For Donald Trump, it is an absolute must-win state," said Steven Greene, a political scientist at North Carolina State University.
    It has been a roller coaster in past elections. Unpredictable, with razor-thin margins.
    In 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama won by only 1% of the vote. In 2012, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won by 2%.
    And this year is proving no different. The polls show a tight race -- meaning the ground game for both campaigns is critical with the hand-to-hand political combat being waged door-by-door and one phone call at a time.
    On the ground, there is a stark contrast in the approaches of the two campaigns.
    Team Clinton has 12 field offices open throughout the state, in coordination with the Democratic National Committee and the state party. They have a paid Clinton campaign staffer in each of the 25 regions of the state.
    The Trump campaign has a smaller footprint and is relying almost exclusively on the Republican National Committee for office space and staff within the state, which Jason Simmons, the newly hired Trump campaign North Carolina state director insists is sufficient.
    "We will have all the staff and resources we need to win in NC," Simmons tells CNN.
    There is a similar dynamic playing out on the airwaves .
    The Clinton campaign has spent $5 million on TV ads in the state since early June, with another $2.5 million coming from its allies. The Trump campaign has not spent any money on TV ads yet. The only group up on the air supporting Trump is the National Rifle Association, with a modest $250,000 buy.
    The demographics of the state are also affecting the contours of the race. North Carolina is rapidly changing: growing more diverse and more urbanized with an influx of college graduates.
    The Clinton campaign is hoping to capitalize on the change in the makeup of the electorate -- by mobilizing the coalition of voters that helped Obama become the first Democrat since Jimmy Carter to win the state in 2008.
    It is why the President and Clinton made North Carolina the place for their first joint campaign appearance last month.
    "I have run my last campaign and I couldn't be prouder of the things we've done together," Obama told the crowd in Charlotte, "but I'm ready to pass the baton. And I know that Hillary Clinton is going to take it."
    But Clinton campaign officials say in North Carolina they are looking to expand their base. And have made what they have dubbed "getable Republicans" one of their top targets in the Tar Heel state, Republicans who voted for Romney in 2012 but are skeptical of Trump.
    "Lots of people can't bring themselves to vote for Mr. Trump," said Patsy Keever, North Carolina Democratic Party Chair says. "Certainly whereas Secretary Clinton is not the person that unaffiliated republicans really want, she is she certainly is a much, much better choice."
    The Clinton campaign is directing their efforts toward college educated suburban women -- an area ripe in North Carolina for persuading Republican voters.
    "From the data we've seen so far, more educated people tend to have more of a problem with Donald Trump, Republican or not," Green from NC State said. "So this an area where if you are going to convert Republicans or Independents who tend to vote Republican, this is the type of area where you are going to find those voters."
    And the Clinton campaign is waging that fight out in the trenches of suburban North Carolina, tailoring their message -- bringing in celebrities to help make the case and appeal to the hearts and minds of mothers.
    "I know that I would not want to vote for someone who calls women dogs," actress Kristin Davis, best known for her role as Charlotte on the HBO show "Sex and the City," told CNN this week in Raleigh as she met with Clinton campaign volunteers registering new voters. "If ever there was a year people would be open to changing how they traditionally would have voted, I feel like this is it."
    That strategy proved successful in picking up the vote of Rafaela George of Carey, North Carolina who has voted Republican before -- but not this year.
    "I said this to my friends, I know she has a lot of baggage and people have criticisms of her (Hilary Clinton), but I just can't go for Trump," George said.
    But others in this key group aren't convinced.
    "I wish there was honestly a better candidate to run as a Republican this year, but I again feel so strongly about the other option that I won't vote for her," Tracey Richards of Wake County said.
    Meanwhile, the Trump campaign is tailoring its outreach as well focusing on getting out their core base of supporters.
    "We are looking to identify, persuade and turn out GOP conservatives and unaffiliated voters," Kara Carter, North Carolina Communications Director for the Republican National Committee says, noting that they will be bringing an economically-focused message to the campaign trail to North Carolina voters.
    Another potentially significant dynamic came just last week in North Carolina.
    A federal appeals court overturned parts of North Carolina's 2013 voting law, including provisions that required voters to show a photo identification card and prohibiting same day registration, ruling that the law stood in the way of African-American voters being able to come out and vote. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Diana Motz wrote that the provisions "target African-Americans with almost surgical precision."
    North Carolina Gov. Pat McCroy, a Republican, said the state would appeal the decision. But the ruling is seen as a win for voting rights activists and potentially the Clinton campaign as it could have a significant impact on being able to register a key portion of their voter base on election day.
    Registering new voters is central to both campaigns' ground game. North Carolina already has over 300,000 more registered voters than at this same time in 2012 and is just 7,000 voters shy of the 2012 total, with three months left before voters go to the polls.