As the Republican National Convention gets underway in Cleveland, its slate of celebrity speakers and Trump family members making it look more like a D-list awards show than a forum for serious political discourse, we are reminded that in North Carolina, enough of the voters are into this kind of thing to make our state one of the few where the presidential election actually matters.

Republicans might as well not even show up on Election Day in California, which in presidential elections has been solidly blue since Ronald Reagan rode off into the sunset in 1988.

Same goes for Democrats in much of the South, where ever since the Civil Rights Act of 1968 the GOP has ruled in national elections.

These are the darkest days of the Southern Strategy, a civil war fought on social terms that turned Jim Crow Democrats into segregationist Republicans. We’ve moved from dog-whistles to white resentment to openly racist campaigning in the past 50 years.

North Carolina used to be part of that solid South, until Barack Obama won it in 2008, moving this once-red state into purple territory.

That Obama lost it in 2012 to Mitt Romney underscores the capricious nature of the electorate.

In other words: It could go either way.[pullquote]These are the darkest days of the Southern Strategy[/pullquote]

Still, it’s depressing to think that Trump could win the state on Election Day.

It would happen thanks to voters in rural areas and suburbs, bolstered by his tough xenophobia and choice of running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a social conservative who shores up Trump’s weak points on abortion and the demonization of LGBT Americans. They would have to be unbothered by the man’s lack of experience or cohesive message, his wife’s blatant plagiarism on the first night of the convention.

Or maybe they just hate Hillary Clinton, whose approval ratings, like Trump’s, are the lowest her party has seen in a presidential candidate in decades.

The state’s 6.6 million voters can be parsed many ways: 2.6 million are registered Democrats and 2 million are Republican. Minus about 28,000 registered Libertarians, the final 2 million belongs to independents. More than half of NC voters, 3.5 million, are women. And almost half a million of them classify themselves racially as “other.”

But more than voter registration, elections tell our story. And the fact that Trump’s message, so laced with hate and bile, can find sympathetic ears in North Carolina shames us all.

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