On the morning after Donald Trump was elected president, shop owner Lenny Melton of Rowan County told Facebook friends that, for the first time in a long time, he was able to say: “I’m a proud American.”
At UNC Chapel Hill, senior Regan Buchanan from Raleigh had the opposite reaction. Feeling stunned and disillusioned, she helped lead a campus-wide class walkout to protest Trump’s victory.
On Wednesday, North Carolinians were as divided in their feelings about Trump’s surprise defeat of Democrat Hillary Clinton as they were Tuesday, when the state’s voters split 49.9 percent for him to 46.1 percent for her.
In Mecklenburg, Wake and other urban counties, which voted heavily for Clinton, the prevailing mood was indeed blue. But in North Carolina’s rural and suburban counties, which voted just as heavily for Trump, it was party time.
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“Everybody in the county that voted Republican is happy and joyous today,” said Cabarrus County GOP Chairman Mike Tallent, who hosted what turned out to be a big victory party Tuesday night at a brewery in Concord. “We had a blast.”
In Charlotte, Tameka Beavers, a business analyst who skipped an election night party to watch the returns at home, used words such as “fear,” “disappointment” and “disbelief” to describe how she was feeling the day after.
“(Clinton) was a champion of women and equal rights for all,” said Beavers, 34. “And she was carrying on President (Barack) Obama’s legacy. That’s what hurts the most – all that hard work he did for others could be down the drain.”
But for Jolene Mohr, 66, who works at a greenhouse in Sanford, Trump’s election brought hope.
“It seems like Republicans and Democrats hate each other, and we have to come together as one,” said Mohr, who became a Republican when Obama first ran in 2008. “I think Trump can unite the country, and bring us together again.”
Sanford is the county seat of rural Lee County, which went for Trump over Clinton, 55 percent to 42 percent. But in nearby Wake County, which includes the city of Raleigh, Clinton was the big winner, with 57.3 percent to Trump’s 37.2 percent.
In urban Mecklenburg County, Clinton was the choice of 62.3 percent of the voters. Trump got just 32.9 percent. But in the suburban counties surrounding Charlotte, it was a different story: Trump won nearly 2-1 in Gaston (he got 64.1 percent), Union (63.2 percent) and Cabarrus (57.8 percent).
Rowan County, where Melton, 39, owns a bicycle shop in the small town of Faith, was also solid for Trump.
Trump won nearly 42,400 votes, more than doubling Clinton’s vote total (66 percent to 30 percent).
A comparison of Tuesday’s totals with those in 2012, when then-Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney narrowly beat Democrat Obama in North Carolina, found that Trump improved on Romney’s vote in many rural counties – and Clinton did worse than Obama.
Take Rowan: Trump got more than 3,600 more votes than Romney did; Clinton polled 3,400 fewer votes than Obama.
Melton said it was a great night for long-silent Americans who finally spoke up by turning out for Trump.
“People finally had enough,” he said. “From (confounding) the media saying (a Trump win) is never going to happen to states not won (by a Republican) in 30 years, it was a proud night for everybody.”
Buchanan, the senior at UNC Chapel Hill, said she fears that a Trump presidency could target immigrants, Muslims and others, citing his controversial comments about such groups.
The environment on campus Wednesday, she said, was “tense and pretty somber. … We cannot believe this happened.” In Orange County, home to UNC Chapel Hill, Clinton won by a landslide, beating Trump 72.7 percent to 22.6 percent.
But, despite the strong emotions, partisans on both sides also said Wednesday that they’ll try to heed the post-election words of Trump and Clinton. Both called for Americans to come together for the sake of the country during this transition from one presidency to another.
Kitty Eldridge, 71, a longtime loyal Democrat in Charlotte, said she has plenty of worries about what Trump might do as president. But she said she was reassured somewhat by his victory speech, in which he complimented Clinton and reached out to her supporters.
“He sounded more like a normal person. He wasn’t a bully, and he wasn’t being mean,” said the retired pediatric nurse. “I was disappointed (at Clinton’s loss), but you have to live with it. We’re Americans.”
Cabarrus GOP Chairman Tallent said his top hope now is for “a respectful and reasonable transition … that we can all be proud of and not have people feel that they are being degraded because of who they supported.”
Beavers said she was inspired by Clinton’s words Wednesday to accept the election results but keep fighting for what’s right.
“I believe in America.” she said. “We are a resilient people.”
And Ryan Fournier, a sophomore at Campbell University in Buies Creek who founded the national “Students for Trump,” said going forward, Trump must help the country unite.
He said the president-elect appeared to start down that road with his Wednesday night speech.
“He didn’t call (Clinton) ‘Crooked Hillary’ or ‘Rotten Hillary,’ ” Fournier said. “He called her ‘Secretary Clinton.’ ”
Raleigh News & Observer staff writers Martha Quillin and Madison Iszler contributed.