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Politics chat: The deciding factors for early voters in North Carolina

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

The midterm election wraps up in just about two weeks, and the turnout has been high in some of the states that have early voting. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is in North Carolina, talking to early voters in the suburbs around Raleigh, and she joins me now.

Good morning.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So, Tam, what brought you to North Carolina in the neck of the woods of my hometown, Durham? So Raleigh is very close by.

KEITH: Indeed. So I was looking for a competitive House race where I could get a sense of the mood of the country. And there just aren't that many of them. North Carolina 13, though, is competitive. It was drawn to be competitive. As you say, it's in the suburbs of Raleigh and some more rural counties. And there's early voting here. So I spent several hours standing outside of polling locations talking to people after they finished voting. And one thing that really stood out is the polarization, even among voters who are registered with no party preference. Take Jim Miller.

JIM MILLER: I'm a solidly independent voter, and I have to say in the past, mostly I have voted Republican. But I don't know if I could ever send another Republican to Washington again.

KEITH: So he cited election denial after 2020 as a driving factor. Then there was Darlene Royal, who named several Republicans no longer in office who she respects.

DARLENE ROYAL: I'm a registered independent, and I've been able to vote both sides in the past. But after all the stuff that's gone on, I just can't see myself even swinging towards Republicans because of the - all the misinformation.

KEITH: Then I interviewed Tony Vanschaick. He's a Republican.

TONY VANSCHAICK: We used to select who the best candidate was based on the issues. Now I think it's time just to wipe out the wrong side. And then once those are wiped out, then start going after the bad ones on our side.

KEITH: We talk a lot about polarization, but this is not an academic concept. It is very real. And it was very much on display in my conversations with voters and the distrust that they have for the other party, you know, the grave concerns that they have about the state of the country and their total and complete disagreement about who's to blame for it.

RASCOE: Wow. Wiping out the other side.

KEITH: Yeah.

RASCOE: OK. So for the voters who told you they are voting for Democrats, what seems to be their key motivation?

KEITH: You know, several mentioned education and the economy. Some talked about the state of democracy. But I think every single one mentioned abortion and reproductive rights, like Marcy Rodgers.

MARCY RODGERS: The economy is a big one but also abortion, very big one. I have daughters and granddaughters. So that has been a big one for me to just have our say as far as women's rights.

KEITH: Two years ago, four years ago, before the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision, she said abortion wasn't an issue that drove her to vote. Now it is. Darlene Royal, who we heard from before, put it this way.

ROYAL: Like somebody else says, the economy eventually will correct itself. Women's rights are not going to correct itself.

KEITH: And Democratic candidates all over the country are counting on this being a motivating issue for their voters because otherwise, all of the historical precedent works against them. Here in North Carolina, abortion access is less restrictive than other Southern states. And there's a Democratic governor who could veto a ban. But Democrats are extremely motivated to make sure that Republicans don't get a supermajority in the state legislature.

RASCOE: And what about those voting for Republicans?

KEITH: Well, Republican voters I spoke to think Joe Biden is destroying America. I heard that again and again. They think he's hurt the economy, that he's taken the country in a bad direction. And they consistently bring up the economy and inflation.

Christopher Gherardi told me that on abortion, it should be between a woman and her doctor but that that issue is not influencing his vote. He said it's all about the economy.

CHRISTOPHER GHERARDI: Food is outrageous now. We normally spend $50 a week for food for the family. Now I'm up to $80 a week for food for the family. The economy is a big thing now. We're going downhill now. I hope you realize two years ago, the economy was roaring. It was great. People took home more money. Everything was better.

RASCOE: So, Tam, you know, in the about 30 seconds we have left, former President Trump continues to loom over national politics. He was subpoenaed Friday by the House January 6 committee. Is he a factor for the people you've been talking to?

KEITH: Well, the Democratic voters I spoke to blamed him for the divisions in the country, but they also see the issues as having grown beyond him. I asked every Republican I spoke to whether they think Trump should run again. And there were a lot of long pauses. Some said, no, he was too divisive or proved that he couldn't win. Others did want him to run again. But I also got a lot of awkward pauses when I asked whether Biden should run again when I talked to Democrats.

RASCOE: That's NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thank you so much.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.

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