Experts assess Biden’s prospects in North Carolina

Experts assess Biden’s prospects in North Carolina

Experts assess Biden’s prospects in North Carolina

President Joe Biden walks onstage during a campaign event at the Jim Graham Building at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh on Friday, June 28, 2024. Biden debated former President Trump in Atlanta, Georgia, the night before.

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The day after his disastrous debate performance, President Joe Biden arrived in North Carolina seeking salvation.

The Democratic president’s goal was not just to show vigor and clarity at a rally, but also to seize what seemed like a real chance to turn his narrow 2020 defeat in North Carolina into a narrow victory.

Assuming Biden remains in the race, is there any chance North Carolina will still be in play? I sent that question to several political scientists and observers of North Carolina state politics. The answers I got were varied.

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“In a word, no,” said Steven Greene, a political science professor at North Carolina State University. “You can’t have the most important event of the campaign dramatically reinforce the most negative narrative about a candidate for everyone to see and not expect significant damage to the campaign. North Carolina already seemed like a reachable state for Biden, so if he stays in the campaign, it seems highly unlikely to me that he can win our state.”

David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College and director of the Meredith Poll, said Biden’s numbers are likely to start trending in the wrong direction.

He said: “Polls taken in June before the debate showed Biden down about four points to Trump, a gap that has remained constant over the past few months. I expect that polls after the debate in North Carolina will show Biden down another four to six points to Trump.”

Michael Bitzer, a Catawba College political science professor who studies state politics, said Biden’s hopes of winning the state rested on securing support from Republicans alienated from Trump.

“What Biden ultimately needed to do was reassure these voters, and if they were engaged and paying attention over the past week, I can’t help but think they didn’t get it, but rather became even more concerned,” Bitzer said.

Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University, said Biden might still have a chance. He noted that the debate chaos happened early on, giving the president time to recover. He added that concerns about Biden’s age were already embedded in voter opinions and that an erratic Trump could still blow up his own campaign.

“Can Joe Biden still win North Carolina? Yes. Will he win North Carolina? I don’t know,” Cooper said. “His debate performance certainly narrowed his path, but he’s not out of the picture yet.”

Asher Hildebrand, a former Democratic congressional staffer and now an associate professor at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy, also sees hope for Biden.

“We’re four months away from the election, North Carolina is still a purple state and Donald Trump is still Donald Trump,” he said. “As long as Biden continues to invest time and resources in the state, I think it’s premature to declare Trump’s victory.”

Susan Roberts, a political scientist at Davidson College, said Biden stumbled but could be saved by an intense focus on abortion rights in the North Carolina gubernatorial race between Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson and Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein. “If North Carolina women are driven to the polls by abortion access, it stands to reason that they would be more supportive of Joe Biden,” she said.

Roberts said the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling expanding presidential immunity could give voters more reasons to vote against Trump’s return to the presidency. But overall, Biden has a lower chance of winning than he did before the debate, he said.

“I don’t know if I were a Democratic consultant that I would spend a huge amount of money in North Carolina,” she said.

The final word belongs to Rob Christensen, a former News & Observer columnist and author of books on the state’s political history.

“It would have been difficult, but not impossible, for Biden to win North Carolina before the debate. Biden was hurt badly by his performance in the debate,” he said. “Politics is full of surprises, but it’s hard to see him winning North Carolina now.”

You can reach associate opinion editor Ned Barnett at 919-404-7583 or [email protected]