The Trump rally in Winston-Salem on Sept. 8 was as much a campaign stop for the president as it was a reward for political allies.
“Representatives Greg Murphy, Virginia Foxx, Mark Walker, Dan Bishop, and Ted Budd, what a group. What a group. What a group, thank you fellas. They’re warriors. Boy, I’ll tell you, those House guys, they were in there, they were fighting for us,” Trump said halfway through his hour-long remarks, peering over an elevated podium at the recipients of his praise.
On cue, rallygoers cheered, waving red, white, and blue signs from the tarmac at Smith Reynolds Airport.
A few minutes later, the president directed his supporters to Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, Republican candidate for governor, and Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill, Republican candidate for attorney general. Applause erupted once more for both candidates, familiar faces from speeches preceding Trump’s.
Lee Haywood, Republican candidate for North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District, which includes Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and High Point, sat three rows in front of the president. He went unmentioned.
“Loved it, loved it, loved it,” Haywood said of the rally. “I like to hear Donald Trump get up there and tell the truth the way he sees it.”
The rally was a continuation of the candidate’s unreciprocated adulation of president and party, even as the GOP seems to be giving up and cutting its losses in the former Republican stronghold. Kathy Manning, the Democratic candidate, is heavily favored to win. Haywood has troubles with visibility and money, and the Republican establishment has balked at backing his campaign. The president not mentioning Haywood during a visit to the candidate’s district is only the latest example.
Last year, the General Assembly redrew the 6th’s lines from eight predominantly rural counties to Guilford County and part of Forsyth County. In the new district, Hillary Clinton won by over 20 points in 2016. No House Republican elected in 2018 represents a district that voted for Clinton by more than four points.
“It’s not just a major long shot. It’s an impossibility,” said David Wasserman, House editor at The Cook Political Report. “Republicans have abandoned [the district] for good reason, because it’s unwinnable.”
The new borders signal underlying social and political change in North Carolina’s Triad. If the district were on the ballot in the late twentieth century, it would have been very competitive, Wasserman said. But the urbanization of the Triad has driven a major blue shift.
“That’s probably not an area that [Republicans] would be too wise to invest their resources,” said J. Miles Coleman, associate editor at Sabato’s Crystal Ball.
One of those resources is the president’s political capital, which has not yet been spent on Haywood.
“There’s no reason for Trump to mention Haywood. It would not have any kind of beneficial effect for the president or Haywood,” Wasserman said.
Haywood remains loyal to the president. One of his campaign Facebook’s first posts since the rally announces plans to attend a “Trump convoy and ride” in nearby Alamance County on Saturday, an event unlikely to provide much-needed local name recognition.
The campaign has also struggled with fundraising. Up to the most recent campaign finance filing on June 30, the Haywood campaign raised $15,365, while the Manning campaign raised $1.4 million. As of Sept. 13, Haywood estimated that his campaign has now raised a total of about $60,000.
“I’m going up against a very wealthy person over here. She can self-fund her campaign, and I’m just a regular guy,” Haywood said. Campaign finance filings show that Kathy Manning has made one $67.06 contribution to her own campaign.
Closing the gap has been impeded by the coronavirus pandemic, which has already shuttered six months of opportunities to woo voters face-to-face. What Haywood calls “a narrow path to victory” is now even narrower. He said he is focused on social media and grassroots outreach, so in an effort to materialize his campaign, in-person doorknocking is slated through the next month.
“The heavy hitters that usually give money, they’re reluctant to do so,” Haywood said. “Everybody knows this is a tough race. They’re starting to come through. They’re starting to realize that this is a winnable race.”
While the Forsyth County and Guilford County GOPs have supported the campaign since its start, Haywood declined to comment on state and national support. However, he said that the Trump campaign was aware of his own and that he hoped for a shoutout if the president returns to North Carolina — Haywood’s best bet against a difficult pandemic and a difficult map.
“About the only thing my campaign is missing is a swarm of locusts,” Haywood said.
Update: This story has been corrected to indicate that Kathy Manning has made one $67.06 contribution to her own campaign. An earlier version incorrectly said she had not made any.