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As election approaches, taking North Carolina’s pulse

November 5, 2016 at 4:01 PM EDT
North Carolina is among the top tier of battleground states this election, with 15 electoral votes up for grabs. Since the nominating conventions, not a week has gone by without the candidates or their running mates paying a visit to the state. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Nick Schifrin talked to voters in the state ahead of Election Day.

REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Well, I woke up this morning with my mind… stayed on freedom…

NICK SCHIFRIN: In downtown Asheville, on the western edge of North Carolina, the Reverend William Barber’s gathering is as much revival as rally.

WILLIAM BARBER: I’m telling you, in this time, you better, we better vote now.

NICK SCHIFRIN: He’s the president of the North Carolina NAACP and an outspoken, progressive preacher. These days his benediction is a battle cry.

WILLIAM BARBER: Every time movements have exercised their faith and done what we’re supposed to do, evil is shut down, and God shows up.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Barber is at the vanguard of a new North Carolina, trying to unite progressive white voters with black and Latino voters. That coalition propelled Barack Obama to a victory here in 2008. It’s the same coalition Hillary Clinton needs to win.

WILLIAM BARBER: That will be the saving grace of this democracy — our diversity united in a way that is transformed into political and moral power.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Last week in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, First Lady Michelle Obama implored the coalition that voted for her husband, to heed Barber’s call to vote.

MICHELLE OBAMA: If Hillary doesn’t win this election, that will be on us. It will be because we did not stand with her.

NICK SCHIFRIN: In 2008, Obama became the first Democrat to carry North Carolina since Jimmy Carter. The backlash followed. In 2012, Obama lost to Mitt Romney, and Republicans won the governor’s mansion and both houses of the state legislature. They passed laws that increased voter ID requirements. Barber led the push to repeal them, and a federal appeals court agreed, saying they “targeted African-Americans with almost surgical precision.” He continues to fight what he calls ongoing voter suppression and widespread racism.

WILLIAM BARBER: You ever notice you didn’t hear anything about fraud until all the people voted for President Obama. You never hear anything until black people started voting at 69 and 70 percent.

NICK SCHIFRIN: If Clinton’s going to win, she will have to revitalize the Obama coalition. 61-year-old Democrat Tyrone Greenlee is as much pro-Clinton as anti-Trump.

TYRONNE GREENLEE: He is threatening to drag us back to a place that is unfair and inequitable for people of color and women and those who are undocumented and for so many segments of society, and I think that Hillary understands justice for all.

NICK SCHIFRIN: But Clinton has struggled to inspire enthusiasm among Democratic voters like Dan Perlmutter. He voted for Bernie Sanders and plans to vote for Green party candidate Jill Stein over Clinton.

DAN PERLMUTTER: Everybody is saying Donald Trump is bullying her and stuff. But you know, he’s asking tough questions that she won’t answer.

NICK SCHIFRIN: To try and overcome those doubts, Barber appeals to morality. He believes the coalition can help create another civil rights movement.

WILLIAM BARBER: I see Black and White and young and old and gay and straight coming together, and Latinos, I know that the South is rising again for a fresh transformation.

NICK SCHIFRIN: For Hillary Clinton to win North Carolina, it will not only be because she reenergized the same coalition of black, young, and urban, educated white voters. It will also be because she convinced enough white voters outside of North Carolina cities, like here, in the Appalachian Mountains.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Nestled in these mountains is Watauga County, where rivers meander through fall colors…County Commissioner Perry Yates is running for re-election.

PERRY YATES: I’m Christian, I’m conservative, then I’m Republican.

NICK SCHIFRIN: He believes Donald Trump can fix what he calls a broken system.

PERRY YATES: The reason people are supporting Mr. Trump is they’re tired of status quo. We’ve tried Republicans, we’ve tried Democrats. And he’s an alternative that appeals.

NICK SCHIFRIN: In the local diner–Thompson’s Seafood and Country Cooking–Yates goes table to table.

PERRY YATES: I’m a conservative. I don’t waste your money.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Out here, politics is so local, he gives his cell phone number out to constituents he’s just met.

PERRY YATES: You call me anytime you need me.

NICK SCHIFRIN: In this county, registered Independents outnumber registered Democrats and Republicans. 95 percent of residents are white, according to the census. For Donald Trump to win the state, he needs to counteract the Obama coalition by inspiring a huge turnout here.

NICK SCHIFRIN: But that appeal could be depressed by registered Republicans like the Greenes, who say Trump doesn’t align with their conservative beliefs.

TONY GREENE: Some of his thoughts in the past have not necessarily balanced out with those values, so I’m not sure that he is a true conservative.

NICK SCHIFRIN: His wife, Terry, worries about Trump’s temperament.

TERRY GREENE: When he can’t even keep it together during a debate, and in control, how is he going to do that in the heat of a serious political conversation?

NICK SCHIFRIN: To counteract those doubts, Trump has campaigned in North Carolina by trying to speak to residents who feel their livelihoods are threatened. In Watauga County, the poverty rate is nearly double the national average.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Trump supporter Lester Allentrivette, who’s behind the register, hoped to retire this year. Instead, he’s working two jobs to pay his bills.

LESTER ALLENTRIVETTE: When they are forced to have to sell their property to pay their taxes, they feel unwelcome because they just can’t afford to hang on.

NICK SCHIFRIN: They believe Trump can fix an economy and a government that haven’t improved their lives.

PERRY YATES: Hope and change came along, and we’re deeper in debt. Then the Congress came around and said we’re going to turn this around, and we’re deeper in debt.

NICK SCHIFRIN: That message seemed to stick with some early voters we met in Boone, Watauga County’s largest town.

TIM WILSON: I’m fed up with both parties. With the lying and the deceptions.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Republican Tim Wilson wants Trump to follow through on a promise to press for Congressional term limits.

TIM WILSON: He may not be able to install them, but he would have a lot of influence on getting them installed. And I think the American people would vote for that. They’re fed up. Because everybody I talk to is fed up.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Kim Roberts is a registered Independent who split her ticket — voting for some Democrats down ballot but for Trump over Clinton.

KIM ROBERTS: I wish I didn’t have to vote for either of them, but in the long run, I think he’ll do less harm than she would.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Elizabeth McKinney is a pro-abortion rights Democrat who went for Clinton.

ELIZABETH MCKINNEY: I voted for her because I believe she supports women’s rights. I believe she is more fair and equal. And I don’t trust Donald Trump.

NICK SCHIFRIN: North Carolina’s rifts have made this state as divided as ever. Hillsborough, outside Raleigh-Durham, once prided itself on its civility.

DANIEL ASHLEY: Hillary Clinton, I mean, she’s been proved to be a liar and a liar and a liar over again.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Daniel Ashley is the local Republican chairman. He believes Clinton is dishonest and corrupt, and that Trump speaks to three important Republican values.

DANIEL ASHLEY: Economics, abortion issue, all the way down to being strong on defense.

NICK SCHIFRIN: It was his party headquarters that was vandalized last month with a message, “Nazi Republicans, Leave Town or Else…” Then the office was firebombed.

NICK SCHIFRIN: It got so hot in here, this is plastic and it’s all melted. And look how much soot is on the wall.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Evelyn Poole-Kober is the vice chair. She has worked in politics since the early 60s.

EVELYN POOLE-KOBER: If we had gone by that sign that was written on the wall—and we’re not Nazis. We’re not haters. If we had let that sign intimidate us, we would just be giving in to hate.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Sympathetic Democrats raised almost 13-thousand dollars to rebuild this office. In this season of discontent, perhaps Poole-Kober speaks for both sides, when she appeals to grace.

EVELYN POOLE-KOBER: I silently prayed that the person, or people who did this, that I could forgive them, and that they could come to some better understanding of our political process.