The state the President won by more than 3 percentage points four years ago has continued its gradual political transformation, moving away from the red states to its south and toward its bluer neighbors to the north. The transformation has been propelled by a mix of factors: The state is growing more diverse with Hispanic and Asian immigrants, its cities and suburbs are booming with unbridled growth from northern transplants, older voters from the northeast who are fleeing Trump have retired to the state’s coast and the Tar Heel State’s once large rural population is shrinking.
This shift has been occurring for years, but it could present Trump and Republicans with a perfect storm of problems at the same time that the state has become the center of the political universe with close races for president, Senate and governor. And many of his diehard voters in rural Eastern North Carolina know it.
“We realize that we have been infiltrated by other people that have more liberal views… than we do,” Cheryl Miles, a Trump supporter, said as she stood in line in Williamston, North Carolina, with Greg, her husband of more than 50 years. “To me, it is important, as a Christian, that you need to go out and express yourself.”
Martin County, after twice voting for President Barack Obama, narrowly backed Trump in 2016, helping him cut into margins in the bigger metropolitan areas. Republicans in the area believe the same could happen this November, as Christian conservatives who were somewhat skeptical of Trump four years ago are now fully behind the Republican leader. But the county, like others around it, has been losing population over the last decade.
“He stands for Christian values,” Miles said. “I know that sometimes when he talks, he doesn’t talk the way I would like for him to talk. But I like the stands that he takes. And sometimes you have to look beyond what the person is saying and (to) what he is doing.”
Williamston is just 90 miles to the east of North Carolina State University in Raleigh. That short physical separation represents a vast political divide.
The greater area around Raleigh, including college towns like Chapel Hill and Durham, is known as the research triangle, because of the topflight universities that are crammed into a relatively small area. Those institutions have not only attracted hundreds of thousands of more liberal voters to North Carolina, but they have provided the intellectual capital to fuel a growing technology and health care industry that has led to thousands of new jobs just over the last few years.
It was one of those institutions that brought Glen Almond and his wife Judith McLaren to Raleigh from Canada more than 30 years ago. The couple had been on green cards for decades, unable to vote in any election. But then Trump won, and the couple said shortly thereafter they became citizens almost expressly to vote against…