RICHMOND - Donald Trump has shifted some staff from Virginia to North Carolina, but campaign officials said Thursday that was a temporary move and not a sign that the Republican presidential nominee had given up on the crucial battleground state.
A Trump spokesman said the campaign had redeployed an unspecified number of staffers for early voting in North Carolina.
“We remain absolutely committed to winning in Virginia,” John Ullyot, the campaign’s deputy political director for communications, said in a written statement. “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.”
Earlier Thursday, the acting chairman of Trump’s Virginia campaign, John Fredericks, had provided a different account of the shifting resources. Fredericks, a conservative radio host, said the campaign recently sent one of the state’s two Trump buses to neighboring North Carolina for a “Trump women’s tour.”
“All campaigns move resources around,” he said. “I’ll confirm that the Trump bus in Virginia went to North Carolina for several days. . . . You would have to be an idiot not to do that. You drive down 95, you hit the state [line]. . . . It’s temporary. They’re coming back.”
The statements came in response to an NBC report early Thursday that Trump was pulling out of Virginia, a critical piece of the electoral map. The report, quoting unidentified people, said the campaign announced the move in a conference call with its Virginia staff late Wednesday.
Fredericks said the campaign has a regular Wednesday-night phone call, although he does not participate, because he gets up very early for his radio program. On Thursday, he said he saw the NBC report and called a Trump family member who assured him it was not true. He declined to identify the Trump relative.
“Not True! Totally False! Bogus! Planted to dispirit our tens of thousands of volunteers in Virginia,” Fredericks wrote in a text message to The Washington Post. “I confirmed this with Trump family at 5:00 a.m. False. . . . We are committed to winning Virginia and our volunteer base is in the tens of thousands.”
A member of Trump’s Virginia staff gave a similar account, saying that there had been a temporary shift of resources to North Carolina. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment for the campaign. Another paid Trump staffer confirmed Thursday that he was still on the job in Virginia.
Corey Stewart, who was ousted this week as Trump’s Virginia co-chairman, said that “multiple” paid campaign staffers contacted him after the conference call to say they had been redeployed to North Carolina.
Stewart initially said he was “not sure” whether only those jobs had been moved or whether Trump was pulling entirely out of the state. He said he later concluded, based on news reports, that the campaign was, in fact, quitting Virginia.
Stewart is a 2017 contender for Virginia governor and chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. Still a Trump supporter, he accused the Republican National Committee of depriving the campaign of necessary resources for months.
“We asked for and were promised 80 new paid staff for the ground campaign last August, and we went ahead and proceeded to hire those people. And then the RNC pulled the funding,” he said. “We had to let a lot of them go.”
At the time, the RNC already had about 70 staffers in the state, but Stewart said he wanted to more than double that because Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton had 300 to 400 in Virginia. He said Virginia still had about 70 staffers at the time of his ouster.
“I made an appeal to a member of the Trump family, and right after that, the RNC said, ‘Fine, what do you need?’ They said, ‘Fine, go ahead and start hiring them,’ “ Stewart said. “It’s been a pattern of reaching out to Trump family, pressure put on the RNC, the RNC temporarily say, ‘Okay, fine. We’ll do that,’ and they promise the resources but they never materialized.”
Stewart said the Virginia campaign was so hard up that it had trouble getting yard signs and literature.
But Wendell Walker, a GOP activist leading Trump’s efforts in central Virginia, said there has been no shortage of campaign materials in his part of the state. He said the one paid staffer in the region was still on the job.
“Together with the RNC and the state Party, we will have all the resources we need to re-take the Commonwealth at the Presidential level in November, as historically early voting in Virginia is much less of a focus for both parties than in some other states such as North Carolina,” Ullyot’s statement said.
Virginia does not offer early voting to all voters, but it does allow citizens to cast in-person absentee ballots if they are unable to do so on Election Day for certain reasons, such as personal or business travel or military deployment
Clinton has held a comfortable lead in Virginia polls for months. Trump’s Virginia campaign was roiled this week as it dismissed Stewart as its state co-chairman. Against the wishes of the campaign, Stewart had participated in a rally outside RNC headquarters in Washington, accusing establishment Republicans of undermining Trump’s effort.
“A plea to the Trump campaign: Don’t pull out of Virginia,” Stewart wrote this week on Facebook. “Thousands of dedicated volunteers have spent millions of hours knocking on doors, making phone calls and raising money for Mr. Trump over the past 15 months. Virginia is winnable. An aggressive ad campaign - in combination with the efforts of these volunteers - will produce results. Pulling out now would be a betrayal to these volunteers.”