ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
North Carolina is a state Barack Obama won in 2008 and then narrowly lost in 2012. Hillary Clinton would love to turn this Southern state blue again. To do that depends a lot on black voters. NPR's Asma Khalid is just back from a trip to North Carolina. Hey, Asma.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: So you went down there specifically to talk to black voters. Why?
KHALID: Well, Ari, there's absolutely no way for Hillary Clinton to actually win North Carolina without African-Americans. I spoke to Marlon Marshall with the Clinton campaign, and he put it this way.
MARLON MARSHALL: It's critical. You know, we expect the African-American vote to be about 23 percent of the electorate in North Carolina.
KHALID: So, Ari, they're looking for huge numbers. The Clinton campaign is banking on about half their votes being black voters.
SHAPIRO: In North Carolina - but if Clinton polls above 90 percent among black voters, what's the concern?
KHALID: That's true. She's polling really well. It's not a question, though, of how African-Americans will vote. It's a question of how many. And, Ari, that's what I was trying to figure out in North Carolina. You know, it's not really an easy thing to do to guess turnout, but you can gauge enthusiasm. You know, some of the usual indicators like organizers and yard signs - I didn't see much of that.
SHAPIRO: You did talk to a lot of black voters down there. Let's listen to your report.
KHALID: OK. There were three major reasons black voters consistently gave me for supporting Hillary Clinton, and none of those reasons were actually about Hillary Clinton. I hung around North Carolina Central University in Durham the other day. It's a historically black school where a lot of students support Hillary Clinton. And when I asked them why, pretty much everyone said it's because she's not Trump.
KALEISHA THOMPSON: I don't like Trump. Like, he's racist. Like, I will vote for Hillary because I don't want Trump.
ANDRE GREEN: I just don't think that Donald Trump is fit to be our president at this point.
AMERIA WARREN: Trump's not on the best of people's sides.
JAMIECE BRAXTON: I don't think Donald Trump has the experience.
BRIA COLEMAN: It's just Hillary and Donald, and I don't really like Donald Trump's views.
KHALID: That's Kaleisha Thompson, Andre Green, Ameria Warren, Jameice Braxton and Bria Coleman. As you can hear, not Trump was one of the most common reasons I heard around North Carolina. After all, Trump was one of the most vocal voices questioning Barack Obama's citizenship.
Ken Lewis is a lawyer and former Obama volunteer. He worries stop Trump is not enough, especially for black voters suffering from high unemployment or harsh policing.
KEN LEWIS: I think not Trump is not a sufficient rationale for getting people to vote who may be losing faith in the political process, frankly.
KHALID: Lewis and his whole family were dedicated Obama volunteers. They even drove down to South Carolina to knock on doors. This November Lewis will vote for Hillary Clinton, but he isn't feeling the same kind of drive.
LEWIS: I think Secretary Clinton has really struggled to articulate how her election would represent a kind of progress that would be meaningful in African-American communities.
KHALID: Multiple people told me that during the Obama days, thousands of people were proselytizing in barbershops, on street corners, at football games to bring people to the polls. Lori Tyson was one of those super volunteers. She told me, you don't see that kind of grassroots operation this year or feel that kind of excitement.
LORI TYSON: I'm not in love with her like I was - I used to say Obama's like my Michael Jackson when I was growing up (laughter) with him - like, crazy like that, so (laughter) - with posters on my walls, sitting there, staring at them.
KHALID: Tyson actually turned one of the bedrooms in her house into an Obama shrine, complete with buttons, newspapers and a photo of her hugging the president. She told me she's going to vote for Clinton this year partly because of Obama's legacy. That's reason number two.
TYSON: I don't want to see all the things that the Obama administration has achieved be dismantled.
KHALID: And it's not just national politics. It's local. And that's the third reason people say could bring them to the polls for Clinton. Republicans have pushed a lot of changes in this state, including a new voter ID law and restrictions on early voting, which many critics say would hurt African-Americans at the polls. These changes seem to be energizing the black community more than Hillary Clinton.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PAUL ANDERSON: Martin Luther King Jr. on this day of history reminds us all that we need to look at this dream speech.
KHALID: This past Sunday, Paul Anderson talked about voting rights at church. The North Carolina NAACP organized services like this all across the state.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ANDERSON: My brothers and sisters, we have a lot on the table for us to think about, a lot on the table for us to vote about.
KHALID: For the past few years, activists have been organizing the local black community to stand up to the Republican state legislature. People like Kerry Haynie fear local lawmakers are taking the state back to the days of Jim Crow. Haynie's a political science professor at Duke and a native North Carolinian.
KERRY HAYNIE: This state has come a long way, and to sense that we are sliding back or moving back to an era that we fought long and hard to move away from has motivated me in ways that, you know, I hadn't been motivated in the past.
SHAPIRO: That's Kerry Haynie talking with our colleague Asma Khalid. And Asma, we heard a lot of people give us sort of indirect reasons for supporting Hillary Clinton. It seems like she needs to energize her base. How does her grassroots operation look right now?
KHALID: Well, Kerry kind of described it best. He told me, you know, there are some grassroots efforts, but he doesn't really know how deep those roots go. And pretty much everyone we talked to says it's going to be tough to have high black voter turnout without visible grassroots. And we just didn't see many signs of that.
SHAPIRO: I know you were focused on the Democrats, but Donald Trump has been making overtures to black voters. Did you hear any kind of response to that from the black voters in North Carolina you talked with?
KHALID: Really not at all, Ari. I mean it really seems irrelevant. It just was never a topic of conversation with anyone that we spoke with. And you know, as we've reported on our air, it seems that some of those overtures may be less directed at African-American voters and more directed at white, suburban women.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Asma Khalid, thanks.
KHALID: You're welcome.
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