RALEIGH, N.C. — Hillary Clinton took a moment Tuesday, and then several more, to revel in her performance from the night before.
“Did anybody see that debate last night?” she asked at an afternoon rally here, prompting deafening screams from the crowd.
Over the next half-hour, the Democratic presidential nominee recounted some of the evening’s highlights, including jabs she took at Republican Donald Trump, and told her audience that “he made it very clear that he didn’t prepare for that debate.”
That Clinton chose to stage her victory lap here was telling: It underscored the heightened importance of this politically turbulent state in a tightening race with Trump.
Her rally, at a community college south of the capital, was the first of three planned visits to North Carolina this week by Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea. The appearances come amid unrest following a police shooting in the state’s largest city, Charlotte — an episode that has added to the uncertainty of the contest.
An upbeat Clinton dwelled here on several moments of the debate that Democrats thought played to her advantage, including Trump’s seeming acknowledgments that his real estate company profited from the housing crash and that he has paid very little in taxes.
“He said that makes him smart,” Clinton said. “If not paying taxes makes him smart, what does that make all the rest of us?”
Clinton also made reference to the shooting here and one of another African American man recently in Tulsa.
Though some facts remain unknown, both episodes make clear that communities are safer when there is “respect from the law and respect for the law,” she said.
Bruce Thompson, a Clinton fundraiser and adviser in North Carolina, said there are political opportunities as well as risks for both candidates in addressing what happened in Charlotte. Talking too narrowly about the shooting might please one constituency while alienating another, he said.
“It ends up being a test of leadership for both of them, about how they react in a crisis,” Thompson said. “But it’s hard for a candidate to come to North Carolina and not have something to say about it.”
Clinton’s advisers believe that support from North Carolina’s sizable African American population, a traditionally Democratic constituency, is keeping the Republican-leaning state in play. Though Trump has seen an uptick in the polls here in recent weeks, his gains have been more modest than in some other battleground states, such as Iowa and Ohio, whose populations are less diverse.
Events in Charlotte — about 150 miles from here — have made the political terrain more challenging for both candidates. Clinton and Trump postponed visits to the Charlotte area in recent days in response to concerns that they would divert law enforcement resources still focused on maintaining calm.
Clinton, who is planning to visit a Charlotte church this weekend, convened a conference call Saturday with several area faith leaders to listen to their concerns about the shooting of Keith Scott as well as broader concerns about the city’s gulf between rich and poor. She pledged support for proposals to address underlying tensions between the African American community and the police force.
Some on the call said such overtures could bolster Clinton’s standing with African American voters and underscore the stakes in a race in which there has been limited enthusiasm for either candidate.
“As an African American, I would want a president who is sensitive to these situations,” said the Rev. Dwayne Anthony Walker, pastor of Little Rock AME Zion Church, who added that Trump does not fit that description.
Trump boosters, who have been heartened by independent voters’ movement toward him in the polls, argue that the unrest in Charlotte is more likely to accrue to the Republican’s advantage.
“Anytime you have a peaceful protest that becomes a riot, it benefits the law-and-order candidate, which in this case is Mr. Trump,” said Marc Rotterman, a veteran Republican consultant, echoing a message that was part of Trump’s debate performance.
“We need law and order,” Trump said during the 95-minute encounter at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. “If we don’t have it, we’re not going to have a country.”
North Carolina, which has 15 electoral votes, has historically been favorable turf for Republicans in presidential races. President Obama narrowly won here in 2008 but lost by a close margin to GOP nominee Mitt Romney in 2012.
Democrats see longer-term trends in the state working in their favor: an influx of white college-educated professionals along the urban and suburban corridor that stretches from here to Charlotte, and an uptick in the African American share of the electorate — part of the legacy of Obama’s campaigns.
To win in North Carolina, Clinton will probably need an Obama-like turnout from African American voters. According to exit polls, African Americans accounted for about 18 percent of the electorate in 1996. By 2012, the black share of the vote rose to 23 percent.
That was partly because of population growth. But an aggressive effort by the Obama campaign to register new voters and make sure they turned out was also a big factor.
“The African American vote is going to determine whether or not Clinton wins the state this year,” predicted Brad Crone, a veteran Raleigh-based political consultant.
Crone attributed Trump’s recent uptick in the polls in part to “soft Republicans,” who had been wary of his candidacy but are starting to coalesce around him, at least for now.
Rotterman said Trump has benefited simply by showing up more than Clinton — particularly in eastern North Carolina, a rural bastion of conservative voters — and by presenting himself as a more focused and disciplined candidate.
Clinton’s rally Tuesday at Wake Technical Community College was her first campaign event since her Monday night debate with Trump.
Chelsea Clinton, the candidate’s daughter, has scheduled appearances Wednesday in Greenville and Asheville, hitting both the eastern and western sides of the state. And the former secretary of state is planning to make good on her postponed visit to a Charlotte church this weekend.
Even some Democrats acknowledge that Clinton has considerable work to do in the remaining six weeks before the election if she is going to inspire African American voters to come to the polls in sufficient numbers to win.
Her efforts have been aided here by a court decision overturning a restrictive voting law that judges said appeared written specifically to limit African American turnout — a tactic that Clinton said Tuesday was “so wrong.” And the renewed attention to Trump’s questioning of Obama’s citizenship, which was featured prominently in Monday’s debate, cuts in Clinton’s favor as well.
But Joel Ford, a state senator from the Charlotte area, said support for Clinton remains “lukewarm” among African American voters.
“It doesn’t have as much to do with her as present realities and circumstances,” he said. “There is a tremendous amount of frustration within the African American community at all levels of government.”
The Rev. Peter M. Wherry, pastor of Mayfield Memorial Missionary Baptist Church, who was among those on Clinton’s conference call Saturday, said he is not sure how much impact the recent events in Charlotte will have on the election.
But Clinton’s efforts are appreciated, he said, if for no other reason than to ensure that “as many eyes are on our city as we can get.” Among the ideas discussed during the call, he said, was requiring the Justice Department to review police-involved shootings.
Wherry said he will do all he can to make sure members of his congregation vote Nov. 8, including using church vans to ferry people to the polls.
Such efforts are nonpartisan, Wherry said, though he left little doubt about his leanings in the race, noting that several of Trump’s appeals to black voters across the country have taken place in front of largely white audiences.
“Black people are not unintelligent,” Wherry said. “We do have the intellect to discern if you’re talking to white people about us, you’re not talking to us.”