Trump, Haley brawl in North Carolina, previewing November contest

By James Oliphant and Gram Slattery

GREENSBORO, North Carolina (Reuters) -Republican frontrunner Donald Trump on Saturday made clear he was turning his focus to the November presidential election and a rematch with President Joe Biden, while his rival Nikki Haley was imploring Republican voters not to let Trump get that far.

Trump and Haley stumped less than 100 miles (160 km) apart in North Carolina ahead of its primary contest next week that could carry deep implications for the November general election.

Speaking to roughly 1,000 supporters at a train station in downtown Raleigh, Haley, who faces vanishing odds of beating Trump, argued she is better positioned to beat Biden in the general election and Trump had led the party to disappointing outcomes in past presidential and congressional elections.

“We need someone who can actually win a general election,” Haley said to cheers.

Trump barely referenced Haley during his remarks at a larger rally in Greensboro, training his fire almost solely on Biden.

The state’s March 5 primary is part of a Super Tuesday slate of 16 nominating contests that will bring Trump close to clinching the Republican nomination. It also is the only race that day that will be held in a battleground state that could decide the next occupant of the White House.

Trump is heavily favored in North Carolina’s primary. But Haley’s performance should give a sense of his vulnerabilities in the Southern state, particularly among moderate and independent voters, said Thom Little, a professor of political science at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro.

The state’s election rules allow independents who are not affiliated with a party to vote in the Republican primary. Those voters have been a source of strength for Haley in states such as New Hampshire and her home state of South Carolina, where she scored about 40% of the vote.

Some voters at Haley’s event in Raleigh, the state capital, said they had voted for Trump in the past and would do so again, while others said they might seek a third-party option or simply stay home.

“I voted for Trump twice, and I just don’t think he’s the right person right now,” said Terry Johnson, 57, of Cary, North Carolina.

Of her choice in a potential Biden-Trump rematch she added: “It’d be really hard. I might vote for an independent person. I’m not sure right now.”

At Trump’s rally, however, Vicky Lennox, 52, of Winston-Salem was sporting a T-shirt adorned with a Trump’s image and the words “Never Surrender.”

Lennox said she never considered voting for Haley, calling her a “RINO” – a “Republican in Name Only.”

During the rally, Trump repeatedly returned to the topic of the 2020 election and his unfounded claim that he was the victor, the subject of state and federal cases against him. His goal for the 2024 election, Trump said, is a result that will be “too big to rig.”

Trump urged his supporters to come out in force on Tuesday “to send a signal.”

“We have to let them know we’re a freight train – and we’re going, and we’re not stopping,” he said.


With Trump expected to clinch the nomination soon, voters who come out for Haley in North Carolina will have to decide in November whether to switch to Trump, stay home without voting or cross over to Biden, Little said.

Those voters would be targeted by both the Biden and Trump camps. Unaffiliated voters now make up a larger segment of the electorate in the state than registered Democrats or Republicans.

The last Democratic presidential candidate to win the state was Barack Obama in 2008. Both the Biden campaign and the main super PAC backing it, Future Forward, have identified North Carolina as a priority along with other Sun Belt states such as Arizona and Georgia.

Early opinion polls of a head-to-head matchup show Trump leading Biden in North Carolina.

“It’s a state where both parties are going to spend a lot of time,” Little said. “And money.”

(Reporting by James Oliphant in Greensboro, North Carolina, and Gram Slattery, in Raleigh, North Carolina; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Deepa Babington, Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman)