AILSA CHANG, HOST:
North Carolina is key to President Trump's aspirations to winning another term. A Republican has not reached the Oval Office without North Carolina in more than 70 years. And young voters could play a decisive role if the battleground tips to the Democratic column come November. One key swing area includes the suburbs around Charlotte, where millennial and Gen Z voters of color could play a prominent role. NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales has more.
CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Timer Colen is an engineering student at Davidson College outside of Charlotte and a registered independent voter. The 22-year-old has been on a political journey of sorts this year, starting out as an Andrew Yang supporter, then Bernie Sanders, and finally landing on plans to vote for Joe Biden.
TIMER COLEN: He's not as progressive as I would like.
GRISALES: That's Colen outside the Davidson Public Library on an open lawn known locally in this town of more than 10,000 as The Green.
COLEN: But realizing that a lot of voters really just want to bring things back to normal, I agree with them and empathize with them. And I don't - and I will vote because I know that there's a bigger threat out there.
GRISALES: Colen says the threat is President Trump, and he thinks it will take years to undo his policies. Colen, who is African American, has lived most of his life in the northern part of Mecklenburg County. He's part of a key demographic as a young voter that could play a decisive role in whether the state goes blue in November. Nearly 40% of the state's 7 million registered voters are now under the age of 40.
MICHAEL BITZER: If they show up at their respective political weight in this state, it makes it that much more difficult for Republicans to win statewide because they have lost so much ground among younger voters.
GRISALES: That's politics professor Michael Bitzer at Catawba College. He says while the vast majority of young voters don't embrace party labels, they're likely to vote with Democrats. And they also mark the most racially diverse block of voters the state has ever seen.
LISA GRIFFIN: I'm probably going to be voting for Biden.
GRISALES: That's Lisa Griffin. The 28-year-old financial accountant is joining friends for a picnic and painting at a park in Pinesville, a far south pocket in Mecklenburg County that will be a key competitive region come November. It's unclear how much Biden's pick of Kamala Harris has energized the base of African American voters, but Griffin and her friends say there are other critical issues at stake.
AIJHA CROCKETT: My biggest thing about the presidency is my student loans.
GRISALES: That's 28-year-old Aijha Crockett, who's joined Griffin. They're both admittedly not thrilled feeling that Biden is their only choice now, but Crockett says there's one mission.
CROCKETT: Trump gotta go. That's all I need.
GRISALES: Roommates Alan Oliva and Jorge Diaz (ph), who live on the north side of Charlotte, couldn't agree more.
JORGE DIAZ: So we can't let him have another four years, or he'll continue to dismantle the way how our democracy works as a whole.
GRISALES: Diaz wasn't originally a Biden supporter, but he says there's too much at stake now when faced with the potential of a Trump reelection. 31-year-old Oliva does outreach as a vice chair of the Hispanic Democrats in Mecklenburg County, another growing demographic. This Saturday, they're hosting a pandemic-style voter drive at the Zion Church in South Charlotte with a giveaway of 1,000 masks, free COVID testing, and signing up voters.
ALAN OLIVA: Because we've been getting sick a lot with COVID-19. So it is affecting us directly. So that's exactly why we need to vote.
GRISALES: Given that young voters are a large and growing piece of the electorate here, Oliva says that if all the energy he sees right now translates into participation, this group can elect anybody they want. Claudia Grisales, NPR News, Charlotte, N.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.