Charlotte’s turmoil has the potential to be Donald Trump’s gain.
Trump’s tough-guy “law and order” talk has strong appeal to white voters in North Carolina, a state crucial to his presidential hopes.
“A law and order campaign has potential for Trump,” said Jason Husser, director of the Elon University Poll in North Carolina.
Clinton announced plans Friday to visit Charlotte Sunday, then postponed the trip at the request of Charlotte’s mayor. Trump already had planned to visit Tuesday, the day after their first debate. His plans were unknown after the mayor’s request that the candidates wait.
His push for law and order has been a staple of Republican presidential campaigns since 1968, a year when civil unrest rocked urban areas and Richard Nixon promised to crack down on criminals. Law and order has long been seen as a veiled way of assuring whites that minorities who commit crimes would be dealt with severely.
After the police shooting Tuesday of Keith Scott as he waited for his son to get off the school bus, protests erupted in Charlotte and turned violent Wednesday night.
Trump, who blamed drugs as a “very, very big factor” among people who want to protest, said Wednesday he favored the expansion of “stop and frisk,” a police strategy credited with dramatically reducing crime in New York City but seen by minority communities as oppressive racial profiling. The next day, Trump said he wanted the program expanded only to Chicago.
We did it in New York. It worked incredibly well.
Donald Trump to Sean Hannity, discussing stop and frisk
For Trump to score gains as the law and order candidate, he needs two developments.
One is that the issue remain prominent. “If this goes on for a protracted period, it feeds into the Trump message about America being out of control,” said Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling in Raleigh.
He also needs to show his response is more than bluster. Undecided voters considering Trump want to see evidence of good judgment, said Carter Wrenn, a Raleigh-based Republican strategist.
“This gives him an opportunity to show exceptional judgment,” Wrenn said.
Trump “has to be tough,” said Robin Hayes, the state’s Republican Party chairman, and tie Clinton to President Barack Obama. Trump should stress how “Obama has not supported law enforcement,” Hayes said.
Trump also could benefit from a geographic advantage: People outside of Charlotte “do not like Charlotte; they feel Charlotte looks down on them,” said Jonathan Felts, a White House political director for President George W. Bush and now a partner in a Raleigh-based public affairs firm.
Of course, the Charlotte chaos also gives Clinton opportunities. Patsy Keever, the state Democratic chairwoman, saw potential gains for Clinton as she urges people to get along and tries to heal racial rifts.
“Hillary is all about stronger together,” Keever said.
Clinton’s response to the police shootings in Charlotte has been to urge more community policing and building better relationships between law enforcement and the people they serve.
Campaign manager Robby Mook told CNN’s “New Day” that Clinton wants to see national standards for police aimed at preventing Charlotte-type incidents.
Gary Pearce, a Raleigh-based Democratic blogger, saw the potential for the incidents to provide further motivation for African-Americans to turn out against Trump. Stop and frisk is largely viewed among black people as a way to unfairly target them, and the more Trump highlights his support, the more the animosity could grow.
But here’s the political challenge for Democrats: African-Americans have been already turning out in big numbers. “They’re about maxed out,” said Husser.
They also could focus more on state and local races, since those officeholders would have more of a direct impact on their communities. Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has a slight lead over Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, in the latest RealClearPolitics poll average.
It’s the undecided whites, said the pollsters, who could swing the state presidential election. Many are regarded as traditional Republicans still uncertain about Trump.
African-Americans were 23 percent of the presidential vote in 2012 in the state, according to network exit polls. They gave Obama 96 percent of their votes. That wasn’t enough for an Obama win. Whites preferred Republican Mitt Romney, by 68-31 percent, and Romney won the state by 2 points.
But in 2008, Obama got 35 percent of the white vote, about the same totals from the black community, and won North Carolina by 0.04 percentage point.
This year, the race has been tight. An Elon poll last week had Trump and Clinton in a virtual tie.. He got 65 percent of whites to Clinton’s 35 percent, while Libertarian Gary Johnson had 9 percent. Clinton was backed by 98 percent of black voters.
North Carolina this year is one of about a dozen states considered too close to call. Clinton and Trump have visited repeatedly, and polls have remained tight. Jensen said that if the Charlotte events remained prominent, it could move the race half a percentage point.
That’s a plus for Trump. “I have a harder time seeing this working to Clinton’s benefit,” said Jensen.
This version updates with Clinton postponing trip to Charlotte at the request of the mayor.