This year is shaping up to be one of the most intriguing and important election years in a long time for North Carolina voters.
Of course, the presidential race leads the way. Recent N.C. polls show Republican Donald Trump has closed the gap separating him and Democrat Hillary Clinton in the race for the White House.
It’s a toss-up. FiveThirtyEight.com, which analyzed 42 polls on the presidential race in North Carolina, is predicting a very narrow Trump victory. RealClearPolitics, another reputable site, gives Clinton a razor-thin lead based on poll averages in mid-September.
North Carolina voters have sided with either party in recent presidential elections. Democrat Barack Obama won the state in 2008 and Republican Mitt Romney defeated Obama — by 92,000 votes — in 2012.
Right now, it appears either candidate could win this state, a true battleground. North Carolina voters will continue to see a lot of the candidates across the state during the weeks leading up to the election.
It doesn’t stop there.
The next race down on the Nov. 8 ballot also is generating headlines across the state and country. (By the way, you can view your sample ballot through the Voter Tools section on the State Board of Elections website, ncsbe.gov.) Democrat Deborah Ross is challenging two-term GOP incumbent Richard Burr for the U.S. Senate, a race being watched nationally that could affect the balance of power in the Senate.
While Ross was seen as a long shot to unseat Burr early on, that has changed. Polls still give Burr the edge, and Ross must overcome a lack of name recognition. Both sides, along with outside groups, are pouring tremendous resources into this race.
A little farther down the ballot is the governor’s race, between Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and Attorney General Roy Cooper, his Democratic challenger. It’s one of the most talked about gubernatorial races in the country.
As of mid-September, RealClearPolitics gives Cooper a 4.7 percent lead in an average of polls, and McCrory's campaign recently was hurt by announcements that the NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference are moving college sports championships out of North Carolina because of House Bill 2, the transgender bathroom law signed by McCrory.
The candidates say they wish voters weren’t talking about HB2, yet they’re running ads and sending press releases out about it. It will be a defining issue in this election. Clinton even mentioned it in a recent visit to Greensboro.
“If anyone wonders what the costs of discrimination are, just ask the people and businesses of North Carolina,” she said. “Witness what’s happening with the NCAA and the ACC. This is where bigotry leads, and we can’t afford it, not here or anywhere else.”
McCrory, meanwhile, is touting the endorsements of the state’s four largest law-enforcement organizations. Given Cooper’s role as the state’s top law enforcement officer, that’s pretty interesting.
As of mid-September, most polls show Cooper and Burr with leads, with the presidential race a virtual tie. Of course, much can happen between now and Nov. 8.
We’re about to see just how purple North Carolina is in state and national politics.
Patrick Gannon is the columnist for the Capitol Press Association. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.