Hillary Clinton has 19 NC offices; Donald Trump has none so far

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump grimaces as he makes remarks at the Trask Coliseum on the campus of UNC-W in Wilmington, N.C. August 9, 2016.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump grimaces as he makes remarks at the Trask Coliseum on the campus of UNC-W in Wilmington, N.C. August 9, 2016. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has held rallies in North Carolina almost every week, but its infrastructure and advertising efforts in the key battleground state are just getting started.

North Carolina is considered a must-win state for the Republican to secure the presidency, but Democrat Hillary Clinton has a big head start in several important areas.

Clinton and the Super PACs that back her have already spent or reserved more than $20 million in ads in the state, some of which hit Trump on controversial statements he’s made. Those ads have been airing regularly since mid-June.

Trump’s first ads in North Carolina will hit the airwaves on Friday. The state is one of four that will see the billionaire’s first general election broadcast TV commercials.

According to NBC News, Trump will spend $4 million on this round of ads. That includes $838,000 in North Carolina through Aug. 29, of which $220,000 is going to stations in the Raleigh market and $347,000 to stations in the Charlotte market.

By comparison, a conservative nonprofit spent $1.5 million this week on ads praising Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr as he faces a close campaign.

The ads will air in every market except the Greenville-New Bern-Jacksonville market. It’s unclear why that area in Eastern North Carolina was left out of the initial ad buy; Trump’s newly hired spokesman for the state, Kirk Bell, did not return a phone call seeking comment Thursday.

The Trump campaign doesn’t yet have an office in the state, top Republicans said. But a news release from Bell Thursday said that “the North Carolina team has acquired new field operatives and will shortly announce the opening of campaign offices across North Carolina.”

As of this week, Clinton’s campaign has 19 field offices where staffers and volunteers gather to call potential supporters and organize get-out-the-vote efforts. The Clinton offices are spread across the state from Elizabeth City to Asheville, including Cary, Carrboro, Raleigh and two Charlotte offices. The campaign plans to open more in the coming weeks.

N.C. Republican Party executive director Dallas Woodhouse said he’s not concerned by the disparity in the number of campaign offices.

“The entire model is to put more people in the field and less money in brick and mortar,” Woodhouse said.

While the Democratic National Committee doesn’t have a substantial operation of its own in North Carolina, the Republican National Committee has more than 50 paid staffers and an additional 200 unpaid “team members” who have committed to weekly campaign work.

“It was already well under away well before Trump became the nominee,” Woodhouse said.

Woodhouse estimates Trump has “12 or 14” staffers in the state as of this week. The Clinton campaign has declined to disclose how many people it employs here.

Trump’s campaign recently replaced North Carolina state director Earl Phillip with Jason Simmons, who’d previously worked in Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration. Four other additions to the state leadership team were announced Thursday. They include deputy state director Taylor Playforth, a former RNC staffer, and political director Robert Bowes, a businessman who worked for Trump during the primaries.

Until now, Trump has relied on holding rallies nearly every week to reach voters in North Carolina, the latest one on Thursday evening in Charlotte.

That hasn’t been enough to get ahead in state polls: The latest Real Clear Politics average has Clinton leading by two points.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter