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How North Carolina became a swing state

North Carolina stood as a Democratic stronghold until shifting demographics and a surge in the number of independent voters turned it into a swing state. Race has also played a factor in recent presidential elections, including in Donald Trump's 2016 victory over Hillary Clinton in the Tar Heel State. Hari Sreenivsan spoke with longtime Republican strategist Carter Wrenn to learn more.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Back in 1990, advisers to late Senator Jesse Helms ran a controversial TV ad injecting race into an already bitter Senate contest. The ad showed a pair of white hands crumpling an employment rejection letter. The voiceover said, "They had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota," at issue Helms raised constantly without evidence of any quotas.

    From an increasing number of reported hate crimes to racist statements by the president himself, race is back in the political spotlight. Just recently at a Trump rally in North Carolina, Trump supporters chanted "Send her back!" In response to the president's comments about Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.

    Yesterday, I spoke with Carter Wrenn, a longtime Republican strategist who once worked on Jesse Helms' campaign and is now advising Garland Tucker on his U.S. Senate Republican primary run against Senator Thom Tillis.

    I began by asking why Republicans want to hold their convention here next August.

  • Carter Wrenn:

    I think that's an insider count of political decision that I think well we should have a convention in a swing state.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Is the demographic in North Carolina changing to make it a swing state?

  • Carter Wrenn:

    You know for years we were basically a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 or 3 to 1. And that worked out all right for Republicans because a lot of those Democrats were conservative Democrats who split a ticket and crossed over. What's happened in say the last 10 or 15 years is the number of Democrats has dropped and the number of independents has gone up a lot. So that today you've got. These are approximate but 35 percent of the voters who vote Democrat, 35 who vote Republican and 30 who are independent who may split a ticket. And that demographic just makes us sort of your classic swing state.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Has race become more important this year or in this cycle?

  • Carter Wrenn:

    It's always important but I don't think more important. You know African-Americans or 22 percent of the registered voters in North Carolina. In 2012, they were 22 percent of the people that voted. What happened in '16 was at the end, African-American turnout dropped and they were 18 percent of the vote. Now that's a huge hit for a Democrat, probably cost Hillary Clinton four points. I think maybe, this is reading tea leaves but maybe one of the reasons the Democrats are talking so much about race is they want to motivate the black vote so that doesn't happen to them again. But is it more important than in the past? No.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    You know given that even those four points of the black vote mattered, it might have mattered significantly to the success of Democrats, how do Republicans reach out and ensure that black voters support them?

  • Carter Wrenn:

    It's very difficult. I mean if you look at the historical trends you know the Republicans still get four or five percent of the African-American vote. Now it's inched up over the years but it's not something that looks like there's going to be a great breakthrough if a Republican got 15 percent of the black vote. They'd be tickled to death.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    How do you see North Carolina going in 2020?

  • Carter Wrenn:

    It could go either way.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Really?

  • Carter Wrenn:

    You know the way I see it right now you know there's some polls that show the Democrats leading Trump by a couple points. I think that…

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    We're still a year out. I mean..

  • Carter Wrenn:

    Yes you wouldn't want to go to Vegas and make a bet on any of that. I think if the Democrats nominate one of the more liberal candidates like Warren or Sanders, I think Trump's got a pretty good chance to win in North Carolina. If it's Biden, it's a lot tougher race. So if the Democrats march left, North Carolina is not a terrifically liberal state. So I think that would give Trump a little edge. If they nominate Biden then we'll just have to see. But bottom line for any race in North Carolina statewide now either party can win.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Carter Wrenn, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Carter Wrenn:

    I'm glad to be with you.

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