By Eli Yokley
October 26, 2016 at 8:19 am ET
A focus group of North Carolina voters said they viewed the state’s competitive Senate race largely through the issue of Gov. Pat McCrory’s controversial bathroom law, a bad omen for Republican Sen. Richard Burr.
During interviews with five couples from Charlotte on Tuesday evening, which were viewed with a Republican and Democratic pollster from Washington, D.C., three people who said they were backing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said they would also back Burr’s Democratic challenger, Deborah Ross, due to his proximity to the state GOP.
The couples — chosen because they disagreed on the presidential contest – were not sure where Burr stood on Trump, but aligned him with McCrory on the issue that has roiled the state’s gubernatorial contest, as businesses have left the state over the controversial House Bill 2. (Burr is actually on record saying the bill was “too expansive” and that state lawmakers went too far.)
Political operatives from both parties have said the gubernatorial race between McCrory and Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper has sucked much of the oxygen out of the political conversation, but the voters brought together by Public Opinion Strategies and Penn Schoen Berland proved it.
“The H.B. 2 connection,” said Republican pollster Neil Newhouse of POS. “Wow.”
Margie Omero, of PSB, said the bill was the most “salient Senate race point” of the night, when compared with another gathering of so-called “WalMart moms” – defined as young- to middle-aged women of mixed income levels, about half of whom attended college and are about 60 to 70 percent white – in Las Vegas, Nevada.
There, Monique, a 28-year-old restaurant worker, said she was tired of hearing about the Senate race between Republican Rep. Joe Heck and Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto at the hotel where she worked. Another Las Vegas voter said she would vote for Heck, but not Trump, because she was worried about Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders taking over a powerful Senate committee if Democrats regain their majority.
When asked about Heck, voters mentioned terms such as “defund Planned Parenthood,” “conservative,” “doctor” and “military.” When asked about his rival, they said, among others, “corrupt,” “pro-choice” and “backed by Harry Reid,” the outgoing Democrat the two are trying to replace.
In both places, this voting bloc expressed the idea that, whether they would vote for Trump or Clinton, or someone else, they were often times voting against the other candidate more than who they were actually voting for.
“Either way, I’m going to walk out of that voting booth wanting to cut myself,” one of them said with a nervous laugh.
Voters surveyed Tuesday evening were more likely to bring up particular moments of Trump’s campaign, such as the 2005 Access Hollywood tape revelation, but had to be prodded on Clinton’s email controversies (though at one point, voters in Nevada got into a brief debate about the merits and timing of classification, a key point in Clinton’s defense).
That, Newhouse said, goes to a point made by the “Walmart moms” about the media’s coverage of the presidential race, which a study found skewed toward Trump during the Republican primary, but he and his supporters say has skewed toward Clinton in the general election campaign.
“The campaign has been more about Trump than Hillary Clinton,” he said.
Eli Yokley is a senior data reporter at Morning Consult covering politics and campaigns. @eyokley