The Biden campaign has arrived in North Carolina. They are beefing up staff and unleashing a series of ads establishing Biden’s leadership, using the pandemic as the backdrop. With Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan solidly in play, Biden probably doesn’t need the state to win the election but for Trump it’s a necessity. North Carolina will be a top battleground going forward.

Biden’s campaign is hiring 120 staffers in the state. That’s a significant number and shows the investment they are prepared to make here. North Carolina is always one of the most competitive states in the nation and, this year, it’s especially efficient because of the economies of scale. The state has a U.S. Senate race, gubernatorial race, at least a couple of competitive Congressional races, the fight for control of the legislature, and nine other Council of State races on the ballot. Everybody is chasing the same voters so Biden’s investment is supplemented by money and organization in down-ballot contests.

On the ad front, Biden released a spot last week that felt as much like a public service announcement as political spot, urging people to wear masks, wash hands, and socially distance while telling us we’re all in this together and we’ll get through it a stronger nation. It’s a subtle contrast to the divisive nature of Trump’s disinformation campaign that points fingers and announces cures that don’t work. It’s a reassuring ad in the midst of a pandemic with Biden talking directly to the people of the state.

Another ad released this week continues on the theme, still asking people to take precautions to prevent the spread of the disease but also offering a sharper contrast on the type of leadership he’ll provide. He will tell Americans the truth, even if the news isn’t good. He’ll listen to experts and try to find solutions. The combination of the two ads is betting that Americans want a president who treats them like adults, giving them information and then asking them to take action to be part of a solution. He’s calling on Americans to come together to fight the virus and it’s a sharp contrast to Trump’s constant finger pointing and head-in-the-sand approach the pandemic.

The final ad tells us that Biden is up for the challenge. He’s a tested and proven leader with years of experience. He’s been through financial crises and pandemic scares and found solutions. The contrasts with Trump are less subtle, with images of Trump as the narrator talks about “ignoring a crisis” and “bailing out corporations” though the ad never mentions the president by name. The spot ends with an economic message about rebuilding the middle class, a clear indication that country is on the brink of change and that we can come out of this crisis a stronger society.

In contrast to the Biden messages, Trump is trying to shift concern away from the pandemic and toward crime. He released an ad that says people won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America. The ad shows an elderly woman frantically trying to call the police as someone breaks into her house, but nobody is there to respond because police budgets have been cut. It reminds me of the “Wolves” ad at the end of George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign. It’s about safety and Trump is betting that Americans will be more scared of each other than they are of a virus.

The Biden campaign is betting that the country is looking for someone to heal the nation and bring us together. They are portraying Biden as an experienced leader with a strong sense of empathy. Trump is looking to divide and scare the nation, understanding that fear and anger are the greatest motivators. He’s following a path that has worked for Republicans in the past. Look for them to start attacking Biden’s strength soon. They will attempt to turn his empathy into weakness, his successes into failures.

Right now, Trump and Biden have two different tasks. With a significant lead in both national and state polls, Biden needs to inoculate himself against the inevitable attacks by defining himself more firmly in the minds of voters. He’s trying to capture the fatigue people have with Trump’s divisive, chaotic presidency and offer an alternative.

Trump needs to reverse the trend and he’s not really trying to sell himself at all. With his failed pandemic response, he’s trying to scare people away from Biden. To win, Trump will need to drive Biden’s negatives significantly higher than they are today. He’s starting early so watch for a very nasty campaign over the next 100 days.

The only thing certain right now is that North Carolina gets a front row seat to see how all of this plays out.

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