GREENSBORO — Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign is hitting Donald Trump hard on his business practices — and recruiting North Carolina surrogates to spread the message.
Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, seems to be doing little to counter that push in this key battleground state.
Most political experts agree that Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, doesn’t need to win the state to become president, but it’s a must for Trump.
A new Clinton campaign commercial highlights the story of an architect hired by Trump to design a ballroom at one of his golf courses but was paid less than half of what he was owed.
The three-minute ad contrasts Trump’s claims of business savvy and empathy for small businesses with a history of unpaid bills, lawsuits and conflict with contractors.
In North Carolina, elected officials such as Nash County Commissioner Mary Wells and state Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, are carrying Clinton’s message to their constituents.
Small-business owners “simply cannot pay their employees if the people they contract with refuse to pay them for the work they’ve done,” Wells, who owns a dry cleaning business, said in a statement.
“Donald Trump continues to say he wants to run the country like he runs his businesses,” she said. “And I think that’s a terrible concept given how many of them have failed.”
As an elected official, Harrison said she’s happy to speak on behalf of the Clinton campaign to voters.
“I think people are more likely to listen to someone they know, someone they have experience with and have voted for,” she explained. “I think it’s helpful for a campaign to have local or state voices on the ground.”
Harrison said she finds it telling that so few important voices in the state Republican Party have appeared with Trump at his North Carolina rallies or seem to be actively working to elect him.
While such figures as state Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford, and Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes appeared at Trump’s stop in Greensboro last month, other GOP leaders such as Gov. Pat McCrory and U.S. Sen. Richard Burr have been conspicuously absent.
“I think it speaks volumes that so many Republicans don’t want to be connected with him,” Harrison said.
Even official voices from the Trump campaign aren’t saying much.
In an interview Wednesday, the Trump campaign’s state director, Earl Phillip, said he didn’t have “authorization” to speak to the media and would have to get it from the national campaign.
In contrast, the Clinton campaign has teams of people offering Democratic elected officials to speak on the campaign’s themes.
“I think we will regularly see the Trump campaign in (North Carolina) and our efforts with them are sort of an unconventional campaign for an unconventional time,” said Dallas Woodhouse, the executive director of the N.C. Republican Party.
Woodhouse, who was in Cleveland on Wednesday ahead of next week’s Republican National Convention, said Trump does have surrogates who will talk to North Carolinians about his campaign — they just aren’t elected officials.
“They’re more normal folks,” Woodhouse explained. “They’re the delegates who are going to the convention.”
Kerry Haynie, an associate professor of political science at Duke University, said using elected officials has been a practice that typically works.
“The fact that the Trump campaign doesn’t have these kinds of surrogates working for them ... is beyond unconventional,” Haynie said.
“It’s a sign of a campaign that is in disarray,” he said. “For them to not really have a campaign up and running in North Carolina at this stage is quite troubling.”
Though recent polls show Trump gaining support in key states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, the most recent polls in North Carolina still have Trump trailing Clinton by about half a percentage point.
President Barack Obama won North Carolina narrowly in 2008 and GOP candidate Mitt Romney barely won here in 2012.