Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is dialing back in Virginia, shifting several paid staff members to North Carolina, where early voting begins next week.
National and state Trump campaign officials said Thursday the shift won’t weaken their efforts in Virginia. But Corey Stewart, recently fired as Trump’s Virginia campaign chairman, said the move and the Republican National Committee’s failure to spend money on local campaign advertising hurts Trump’s chances in the commonwealth.
North Carolina and Virginia have been considered critical swing states this year. While Democratic contender Hillary Clinton is leading in recent polls in both states, the margin is considerably tighter in North Carolina where, unlike Virginia, all voters can begin casting ballots Oct. 20 – well before the Nov. 8 Election Day.
John Ullyot, Trump’s deputy political director for communications, said in a statement that between the Republican National Committee and the state party, Virginia would have “all the resources we need” to win the state.
The Trump campaign dismissed reports early Thursday by NBC and other media that it was leaving Virginia altogether.
“We remain absolutely committed to winning in Virginia,” Ullyot said. “While we’re reallocating some of our staff strategically to accommodate early voting in nearby priority states such as North Carolina, our campaign leadership and staffing remains strong in Virginia.”
Radio talk show host John Fredericks, co-chairman for Trump’s Virginia campaign, said the campaign’s strength isn’t its paid staff.
“We, the volunteers, are the Trump campaign,” Fredericks said. “We have never had a huge paid staff in Virginia. We won the primary with five people.”
Stewart agreed volunteers shoulder much of the work but argued that shrinking rather than growing the professional staff and not buying local advertising undercuts the volunteers.
Clinton’s and Trump’s Virginia campaigns are markedly different in terms of advertising than four years ago when President Barack Obama and GOP contender Mitt Romney blanketed Hampton Roads and much of the state with thousands of television spots in October. This year’s candidates have national network TV ads but no local commercials.
“It’s a big mistake because I think Virginia is winnable. It just needs to be adequately financed,” Stewart said. “It’s going to be very, very hard to win Virginia with the withdrawal of those resources and with the absence of any real RNC effort.”
Stewart was ousted as Trump’s state chairman Monday after upsetting the national GOP and some in the Trump campaign when he helped organize a protest outside the party’s Washington headquarters demanding more campaign help.
Stewart said several of Trump’s Virginia staff told him Wednesday night “that their jobs were being moved to North Carolina. That they were welcome to come along. If they didn’t want to relocate to North Carolina, they wouldn’t have a job.”
The decision came the same day Trump’s vice presidential running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, campaigned in Salem and Lynchburg.
Fredericks said the candidate’s previous state campaign manager, Thomas Midanek, was transferred about five weeks ago. At that time, Mike Rubino, who handled Trump’s Virginia primary win, came back to Virginia to head the campaign operation. Mark Kevin Lloyd remains the state director.
Clinton has led in virtually all polling during the general election campaign, often comfortably. The most recent is a Roanoke College survey of likely voters that found Clinton favored by 46 percent, Trump by 36 percent and 9 percent wanting someone else. Ten percent were undecided.
The poll was conducted Oct. 2-6, just before the Oct. 7 revelation of Trump’s lewd comments about women on a 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape and Sunday’s presidential debate in St. Louis.
Fredericks contends there’s a way to win.
“We know that Hillary Clinton is going to do very, very well in northern Virginia. … We know we’re going to lose there big,” Fredericks said.
The campaign needs a “massive turnout in southwest and southside Virginia,” he said. “It’s got to be record-breaking and we have to carry Hampton Roads.”
This story originally appeared on PilotOnline.com.