National LGBT group running anti-HB2 campaign as NC early voting starts

A national pro-LGBT rights group is strategically targeting North Carolina voters on the swing state’s first day of early in-person voting.

The Human Rights Campaign, which typically is active in national politics, has a new approach in North Carolina: heavily-investing in a handful of state legislature contests.

The group, which advocates on behalf of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, says the Tar Heel State is ground zero for LGBT issues this election year. The driving local factor is HB2 – a state law that passed earlier this year to nullify non-discrimination protections for gay and transgender people.

House Bill 2, known as HB2, is best-known for putting forth new restrictions on bathroom use in North Carolina.

The law mandates people may only use public restrooms – like those in schools and government buildings – that correspond with their birth sex. LGBT activists and others have called the law discriminatory, saying transgender people do not identify with their birth sex. Proponents of the law argue HB2 is necessary for privacy and safety in restrooms.

North Carolina and the U.S. Department of Justice are entangled in dueling lawsuits over the issue.

HB2 has created an opening in North Carolina to flip some traditional Republican General Assembly seats and send a warning to state lawmakers across the country that bathroom bills like HB2 aren’t just discriminatory but also a political miscalculation, says Brandon Lorenz, spokesman for Human Rights Campaign.

Human Rights Campaign, Lorenz said, has sent thousands of political mailers and mobilized dozens of volunteers to knock on doors and call prospective voters in North Carolina. The organization, in partnership with Equality North Carolina, has endorsed more than a dozen Democratic candidates, many of whom are running against Republican incumbents who voted for HB2.

Lorenz says Human Rights Campaign has also rolled out a similar state-specific strategy in Florida, Nevada and Ohio, but its ground game in North Carolina is much more expansive.

The issue has been significant in the reelection efforts of Wake County Republicans Sen. Tamara Barringer and Rep. Gary Pendleton.

On the other side of the issue, HB2 supporters are actively working to reelect Republicans up and down the ballot in North Carolina.

The North Carolina Family Policy Council recently released its 2016 voter guide, covering the gubernatorial race, General Assembly contests, and council of state and judicial seats. The N.C. Family Policy Council and the North Carolina Values Coalition both encourage voters to support pro-HB2 candidates.

Last week, the N.C. Values Coalition partnered with evangelist Franklin Graham, a North Carolina native, for a Raleigh stop on the “Decision America Tour 2016.” The group hosted a Carolina Values Summit prayer breakfast and Graham’s rally drew nearly 20,000 people.

There’s good reason national and local groups are fighting hard in North Carolina over HB2 and other political issues: the state is a key battleground for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, is host to one of the nation’s most-watched gubernatorial contests, and its U.S. Senate race could help determine whether Republicans hold a Senate majority next term.

Current polling shows Clinton with a slight edge in North Carolina. Other top races – the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate contests – are also close.

Anna Douglas: 202-383-6012, @ADouglasNews