- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A tough fight is brewing in the swing state of North Carolina for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who still struggles to unify the party base and faces aggressive tactics from likely Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

Without a doubt, Mr. Trump is revving up his campaign for the crucial battle that could determine who wins the White House. But many of the same issues hobbling his effort nationwide — lack of organization, absence of a TV ad presence, limited support from the state Republican Party — are magnified in the Tar Heel State.

It’s no wonder that Mrs. Clinton chose the state for her first joint appearance Tuesday with President Obama, who put North Carolina in the blue column in 2008 for the first time since Jimmy Carter won it in 1976.

Mrs. Clinton also unleashed an ad blitz in North Carolina over the past week, pouring more than $876,000 into a TV campaign that highlighted her lifelong commitment to children and presented a stark contrast between her leadership style and Mr. Trump’s.

The ads target the Democratic base and swing voters who have negative views of both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton.

The Trump campaign and its allies have not aired any ads in the state.
Paul Shumaker, a Republican political strategist in North Carolina, said Mr. Trump’s No. 1 job is to unify the base.

“He needs to move to solidify the Republican base first. It is something that has to be done,” Mr. Shumaker said.

He noted that Mrs. Clinton faced a similar problem because some of the more conservative Democrats threaten to either support Mr. Trump or stay on the sidelines rather than cast a ballot for the former secretary of state.

“Both of them have challenges with their base,” said Mr. Shumaker. “The unaffiliated are irrelevant if you don’t solidify your base.”

At a rally in Raleigh, Mr. Trump made a plea for party unity, especially among Republican leaders. But in the same breath, he dismissed its importance to his campaign.

“We need unity in the Republican Party. Let’s be honest, I can win without unity,” he told an enthusiastic crowd. “I probably do better without the kind of support I’m talking about. That’s why I’m here in the first place.”

Mr. Trump has yet to win over some of the state’s tea party voters and conservative activists who backed Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in the primary race.

Mr. Trump edged out Mr. Cruz in the state’s Republican primary in March, 40.2 percent to 36.8 percent. Mr. Trump captured 29 delegates, and Mr. Cruz took 27. The remaining 15 delegates were split among other candidates.

Some of those Cruz delegates are now #NeverTrump conspirators.

Mr. Trump’s problem with conservative voters is evident among the state’s tea party groups.

“There are certain candidates we absolutely will not embrace. He’s one of them,” said Jane Bilello, a leader of the influential Asheville Tea Party.

She said many of the state’s conservative voters will “hold their nose” and cast ballots for Mr. Trump in November, but the Ashville Tea Party and other organizations cannot in good faith align with the real estate tycoon.

“He is not a conservative. Mr. Trump has been on every side of every issue,” said Ms. Bilello. “We would be putting our entire organization in jeopardy.”

Ms. Bilello was elected as a Cruz alternate delegate but said she would skip the convention this month in Cleveland rather than vote for Mr. Trump or take part in any #NeverTrump shenanigans on the convention floor.

The North Carolina Republican Party has begun laying the groundwork for the Trump campaign in the state.

However, state party workers are not necessarily loyal to Mr. Trump, and the state party is busy with a slew of other top-tier races including those for governor, the legislature and most of the state’s congressional seats.

“It’s not going to be easy because the Democratic Party is dumping millions and millions of dollars into the state,” said Franklin Lawson, Republican Party chairman for Catwaba County, a community north of Charlotte in the data center corridor.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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