Could the Charlotte Protests Tip North Carolina to Trump?

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Somewhere the ghost of Jesse Helms is probably urging Trump to take advantage of the images coming from the streets of Charlotte. Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

When we think of external events that might affect the presidential election, it’s generally something national: good or bad economic news, or maybe a terror incident that instantly becomes national news.

But sometimes local events can have a disproportionately national impact. And sure enough, there is a growing sentiment that the anti-police protests in Charlotte could shake up elections in the very close battleground state of North Carolina.

This being a state with a long history of backlash politics (remember Jesse Helms?), the natural suspicion is that images of violent protests will help reinforce Donald Trump’s law-and-order message in the Tar Heel State. Bloomberg quotes a local Democratic congressional candidate as expressing that very hunch:

“This thing in Charlotte comes right on the heels of what happened in Oklahoma and you’ve got passions that are stirred up and running high,” said Thomas Mills, a former political consultant from Carrboro who is running for Congress as a Democrat. “This could start to shift into a law-and-order thing that favors Trump and Republicans.”

Keep in mind that the presidential contest is just one close election being held in North Carolina. There’s a key Senate race involving incumbent Richard Burr that’s polling within the margin of error. And perhaps no one will be affected more directly by developments in Charlotte than Republican governor Pat McCrory, who sent the National Guard into the city to squelch the protests. McCrory has been looking kinda toasty of late, but the opportunity to pose as a bulwark of order against roving bands of youth (or substitute your own racially tinged cliché) could be just what the political doctor ordered.

The speculation is more than a little premature. There could even be a benefit to the Democrats. McCrory and the Republican-controlled legislature have waged an aggressive campaign to suppress voting opportunities. Federal courts have stopped implementation of their plan. So we could see a highly mobilized minority electorate in the state.

Either way, this most polarized presidential election may get even more polarized with this latest example of protests against police conduct. It’s likely going to get worse before there’s any chance of it getting better.