Trump Travels To N.C., Where Democrats See Gains In Exurbs In 2016, President Trump won overwhelmingly in Union County, N.C., an exurban area outside Charlotte. Now, Democrats see potential gains with new residents and disaffected Republicans.
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There's A Big Focus On Suburbs, But Democrats See Potential Gains Farther Out

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There's A Big Focus On Suburbs, But Democrats See Potential Gains Farther Out

There's A Big Focus On Suburbs, But Democrats See Potential Gains Farther Out

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This fall's election may be decided in the suburbs, which elected a lot of Democrats to the House in 2018. Now, as he seeks reelection, President Trump is warning, quote, "suburban housewives" that he will protect them from low-income housing. Traditionally, that is racist language for people of color. But there are different kinds of suburbs. Inner ring suburbs tend to be more diverse and are voting more and more like cities. Farther out, the exurbs, as they're called, have stayed more conservative. NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales asked what voters think in the exurbs outside Charlotte in Union County, N.C.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: The historic district in the town of Waxhaw, N.C., is marked by lines of traditional shops and the sounds of the train that runs through it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAIN HORN)

GRISALES: Sixty-nine-year-old Allen Cronk is visiting a used bookstore. He's a Republican voter. And while the Marine Corps veteran is worried about the current state of his retirement benefits, like Social Security and help from the Department of Veterans Affairs, he's sticking with Trump.

ALLEN CRONK: He ain't my greatest thought of a president. He does a lot of good things, does some that aren't. But Biden, he just does it all wrong.

GRISALES: Waxhaw in Union County, a GOP stronghold. But not all Republicans here are sticking with Trump. Residents Steve and Sharon Smith were lifelong Republicans until a new political force took over the party.

SHARON SMITH: Trump (laughter).

STEVE SMITH: I mean, with Trump as president, I'm embarrassed.

GRISALES: Now they're voting for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. They're part of a worrisome trend for the GOP - party members who don't think Trump is what Republicanism is supposed to be.

STEVE SMITH: I mean, I tell people if they ask. I'll say, well, I'm a Republican, but I'll never vote Republican again.

SHARON SMITH: I mean, this coronavirus has got me so worried.

GRISALES: That's the Smiths at their home in Waxhaw, which is surrounded by lush greenways and new developments. It's also one of the fastest growing communities in the Charlotte metropolitan region.

PAM DE MARIA: So we're seeing little pockets of change that are ticking towards blue.

GRISALES: That's Pam De Maria. She's chair of the Union County Democratic Party. She says more than 20 years ago, Democrat was a dirty word in Union County. Now she's pumped about communities like Waxhaw bursting with new Democrats. Dan Barry, a Union County resident and a longtime area Republican official, disagrees.

DAN BARRY: 'Cause I think the Union County Republican vote will hold.

GRISALES: Barry thinks the new residents are escaping urban centers and values in search of a conservative lifestyle and will add to the GOP rolls. But politics professor Michael Bitzer at Catawba College says Union County is showing clues of softening Republican support, and that could spell larger trouble for Trump.

MICHAEL BITZER: That, to me, sends a signal that maybe there's slippage in other staunch Republican suburban counties, and that's where the Republican base is.

GRISALES: Back at the historic Waxhaw district, three generations, Grandma Cindy Carroll and daughter Lauren Harrah are about to visit the antique store with 11-month-old granddaughter Austin in tow.

AUSTIN: (Vocalizing).

LAUREN HARRAH: Yeah.

GRISALES: Carroll and Harrah are not Biden fans.

HARRAH: It's like he's relying too much on his team telling him what to do.

GRISALES: That's Harrah. She and her mom are not completely happy with Trump. They say he's too fixated on social media. And Carroll worries he tries to be front and center too much. They're also worried about coronavirus. But Carroll is betting Trump can get the country back to better times seen at the start of the year.

CINDY CARROLL: You know, everything was looking really good. So I am praying that if he gets reelected, that that is kind of where we will head back to you after COVID gets resolved.

GRISALES: Trump won North Carolina by a razor-thin margin in 2016, thanks to places like Union County. And whether previous voters remain loyal could decide if he can win this battleground state again. Claudia Grisales, NPR News, Waxhaw, N.C.

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