Donald Trump’s campaign is moving staff from Virginia to North Carolina, seemingly giving up on the Old Dominion with nearly four weeks to go before Election Day — a staggering retreat in what was once a GOP stronghold.
The move, reported by several press outlets Thursday and confirmed in calls with Trump volunteers, also underscores Mr. Trump’s shrinking path to victory, as he moves resources from a state that went for President Obama in 2012 to a state that was won by GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
“The way I would interpret that is really if you look at it as Trump trying to preserve Mitt Romney’s map from 2012 and add to it, going from Virginia to North Carolina is like going from playing offense to playing defense,” said Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
The Republican Party of Virginia described the changes as a “Trump campaign staff realignment” and said the national GOP’s efforts in the state will continue.
“Our commitment to winning Virginia for all of our Republican candidates remains unchanged,” RPV Chair John Whitbeck said in a statement. “The media reports saying the Trump campaign has withdrawn from Virginia come from unnamed sources and a former state co-chair who was terminated by the campaign.”
Loyal Trump supporters bristled at the reports, saying the shift in people is normal, and it’s wrong to assume they’ve given up in Virginia.
“The story is completely bogus and false,” said John Fredericks, who became chairman of Mr. Trump’s Virginia campaign this week. “The Trump campaign in Virginia is a volunteer campaign. It has been that way since we started.”
NBC News, ABC News and other media outlets first reported the shift, saying the Trump campaign was going to put more of a focus on North Carolina, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania during the closing weeks of the campaign.
Virginia had been a clear GOP target going into this year. It was one of Republicans’ most solid states in presidential elections for decades, but that streak was broken by Mr. Obama in 2008.
The GOP tried to regain the state in 2012, but Mr. Obama won again, 51-47, over Mr. Romney.
This year, Mr. Trump trails Mrs. Clinton by almost 7 percentage points, according to the Real Clear Politics average of polls.
Mr. Kondik said the state’s shifting demographics — including growing affluent and college educated suburbs in voter-rich Northern Virginia — have been trending Democratic, but the candidate is speeding that shift.
“I think Trump’s candidacy might be accelerating the changes in Northern Virginia because he is such a bad candidate for the region,” he said.
J. Tucker Martin, a GOP strategist, said Mr. Trump’s shortcomings extend beyond demographic challenges.
“Virginians won’t vote for ‘novelty’ candidates,” Mr. Martin said. “You can’t ask voters in the state that’s home to the Pentagon, Naval Station Norfolk, and on and on to vote for someone like Donald Trump to control our nuclear codes and armed forces. That just doesn’t sell. Virginians take this too seriously.”
Mr. Trump earlier this week fired his Virginia chairman, Corey Stewart, after he organized a protest outside Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C., hoping to shame the party into investing more money and manpower into the state.
Mr. Stewart said the RNC had initially promised to make sure Virginia got a large chunk of the money Mr. Trump has helped the party raise. But he said the RNC didn’t deliver.
“They never kept their promise,” he said, adding that his sense is the RNC believed the money could be better spent in other swing states with competitive congressional races.