Donald Trump campaigns in North Carolina and Pennsylvania on Friday. Hillary Clinton heads to the battleground state of Ohio.
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There are 50 states in this country, thousands of cities and towns and innumerable fairgrounds. Yet here we were Friday morning, driving a familiar set of roads toward a Donald Trump rally in the small town of Fletcher, N.C., to the same spot I’d been to last week to see his running mate, Mike Pence.
The orange hues of fall foliage have grown a bit redder since early last week, the air is nippier, the skies are slightly grayer. But I saw the same trees and the same cattle stalls as Trump's press bus rolled into the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center. I even recognized one of the volunteers, a nice woman named Sandra Norris who had directed me to the restroom last week.
It seems strange on the face of it, with a whole country to cover and tens of millions of people to persuade. Do these voters in and around the Great Smoky Mountains really need another valuable visit from the same presidential ticket, all within the space of a few weeks before the election?
Later on Friday, we will arrive in Johnstown, Pa., and on Saturday, it’s Gettysburg, Pa., two other places Pence went in recent days.
This stop in Fletcher may yet prove a strategic blunder, depending on how one assesses Trump’s best chances at what now seems a long-shot victory.
But the outsized attention to a few thousand voters has its own logic, reflecting how 21st-century campaigns work. Start with the narrow electoral map that leaves just a few states truly up for grabs every four years, North Carolina being one of the prized ones.
Then consider the demographics within a state. Democrats usually rack up votes in the cities, places like Charlotte and Raleigh. Republicans do best in rural areas like this one. But because they are more sparsely populated, it is most practical to find a central hub that is also accessible to local media whose coverage can amplify a candidate's message.
One Trump supporter, Cathy Murphy, said Friday that this was her fifth Trump rally. She was pleased it was a mere 50 miles from her home in Nebo, where she works as a prison supervisor.
Then factor in a candidate’s time, which puts a premium on event spaces near airports. This one happens to be right by the airport that serves Asheville, N.C.
Which all brings us back to Fletcher, where I sit behind a keyboard as the warm-up music blares.
Last week, for Pence, it was heavy on country – Toby Keith and Rodney Atkins. This week, we hear Trump’s favorite British invasion tracks – some Rolling Stones and a bit of Elton John, spiced up with vintage Backstreet Boys.
Trump, who draws bigger crowds than his running mate, has booked a larger hall on the grounds than the one Pence had.
But the voters, some of the same ones, swayed along joyously just the same until it was time to yell, "Lock her up!"