If Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination for president, other GOP candidates from North Carolina and beyond will face an awkward choice when he campaigns in their states: Appear with their party’s nominee or find an excuse for why they can’t join the billionaire for the cameras.
In North Carolina, that’s a turnaround from past years when it was Democrats running for state and local offices who had to ask themselves if appearing with an unpopular president from their party was advisable, says Pope "Mac" McCorkle, an associate professor of the practice in public policy at Duke.
“Back when I was a Democratic consultant the issue for my North Carolina candidates was often how much do I support the national ticket, do I not go to the airport and shake hands? That’s always been a Democratic problem, and it might still be a Democratic issue if Bernie Sanders got the nomination,” he says.
“But because of Trump, it seems like the shoe is on the other foot. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory says he’ll support whoever gets the GOP nomination, but will he be there with Trump if he wins?”
North Carolina voters will go to the polls on Tuesday to vote for the candidate they want to carry the party mantle in this year’s presidential race. The state moved up its presidential primary from May to March 15, one of five states voting next Tuesday, including winner-take-all-delegates states Florida and Ohio.
“North Carolina’s primary is part of the very important day. It is quite possible that next Tuesday could settle both nomination races, and so it depends on how things play out in five states next Tuesday -- and North Carolina is one of the biggies,” says David Rohde, a professor of political science at Duke.
He notes that Trump and Clinton are expected to win in North Carolina. “If Trump is the nominee then every Republican for national office will be asked, ‘Do you support or don’t you support Trump?’ And the answer to that question has the potential to affect public support for those candidates,” Rohde says.
“I don’t think there’s ever been anything like we’ve seen with Trump,” Rohde adds. “Last week Sen. McConnell told Senate Republicans running for re-election in places where Obama carried last election that they need to be prepared to run negative ads against Trump if he gets the nomination.”
That scenario, says McCorkle, would be a “recipe for disaster” for all of those GOP candidates.
But Democrats may find themselves in a similar conundrum if an FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email practices while she was secretary of state finds wrongdoing, Rohde says.
“For Hillary Clinton, who along with husband Bill is campaigning here, North Carolina is a place where she can run up the numbers, and it’s another Southern state,” adds McCorkle, who has worked as an issues consultant to political candidates, including former North Carolina Democratic Govs. Mike Easley and Bev Perdue.
McCorkle thinks that because the campaigns of GOP candidates John Kasich and Marco Rubio will likely depend on how they finish Tuesday in their home states of Ohio and Florida, respectively, North Carolina’s primary likely won’t play as big of a role as hoped when the date was moved up.
"Especially on the Republican side, because they chose to do a proportional delegate distribution in North Carolina vs. a winner-take-all like Ohio and Florida, we’re probably going to be relegated to secondary rank,” McCorkle says.
Rohde says if Trump is the Republican nominee, one worry for the party is Republican voters not voting in the general election.
“One of the big things the GOP has to worry about is Republicans staying home instead of voting for Trump in November.”