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'A top-tier priority': Trump rally highlights North Carolina's big role in picking next president

Brian Murphy, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are visiting North Carolina on Wednesday -- the kickoff to what could be a nonstop parade of presidential candidates and their surrogates making their way to the Tar Heel State before the 2020 primaries and general election.

Trump rallied supporters at a Keep America Great event at East Carolina University in Greenville, and Pence will join him after spending the day at Fort Bragg. Sen. Thom Tillis, Rep. Mark Meadows and two Republican nominees in special elections for the U.S. House -- state Sen. Dan Bishop (9th district) and state Rep. Greg Murphy (3rd district) -- are among the local politicians expected to attend. Meanwhile, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will be in Raleigh on Wednesday.

The big-name event is one indication of how important the state -- and its 15 electoral votes -- are to Trump's reelection bid.

"The path to maintaining a majority in the Senate goes through North Carolina and I think the path to the president's reelect does as well," said Tillis, who is up for reelection in 2020 and is part of the Republicans' current 53-seat majority in the Senate.

It will be Trump's sixth visit to the state as president and his first 2020 campaign event in the state. He defeated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in North Carolina by 173,315 votes in 2016, earning 49.8% of the vote to Clinton's 46.1%.

Although the margin was slim, it was the largest margin of victory in a presidential vote in North Carolina since George W. Bush's win in 2004. In 2012, Mitt Romney carried the state by 92,003 votes over Barack Obama. In 2008, Obama defeated John McCain by 12,177 votes.

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Those close elections have cemented North Carolina as a vital swing state, though its importance may be waning as several Midwestern states have become vital to Trump.

"It's still very important," said Meadows, one of Trump's closest allies in Congress and someone who speaks frequently with the president. "He'll be there a number of times in North Carolina, just like he was in 2015 and '16. I can assure you, based on my conversations with him even in the last week or so, it's a top-tier priority."

Trump made 23 stops in North Carolina in the final 100 days of the campaign, according to NBC News, and Clinton made 16 stops in the state during that time. In the final month of the race, Trump spent six days in North Carolina, while Clinton spent four, according to ABC News. Clinton held her final rally of the campaign in Raleigh.

The Republican National Convention will be held in Charlotte in August 2020.

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