RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Several figures at the center of the 2024 presidential campaign are coming to North Carolina this week, as the state is poised to play a key role both in the Republican primary next year and the general election. 

President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden will travel to Rocky Mount and Fort Liberty on Friday just as state Republicans begin their convention which will feature: former President Donald Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. 

“Certainly Biden knows that the Republicans are going to get the lion’s share of attention in a very purple state. And, so he is very clearly down here to cut into that,” said Chris Cooper, an expert on state politics at Western Carolina University. “I think we’re going to get more attention than we have in the past and honestly, I didn’t think that was possible.” 

During the president’s visit, he’ll stop by Nash Community College to highlight workforce training programs and visit Fort Liberty in Fayetteville to talk about an initiative of Dr. Biden’s to support military and veteran families, according to the White House. 

“We continue to see great jobs coming to North Carolina and a strong economy,” said Sen. Mike Woodard (D-Durham). “I think what you’re going to hear up in Greensboro this weekend is just a lot of negativity.” 

The president’s visit comes as several Republican candidates formally got into the race this week, including Pence. 

A recent poll by High Point University showed Biden’s approval rating among North Carolina voters at 33%, while 53% said they disapprove.  

While the unemployment rate has been at historic lows in recent months, many voters have concerns about the overall economy. The High Point poll found only 21% of voters approved of Biden’s handling of inflation. 

A separate poll by the conservative John Locke Foundation found President Biden would be in a close race against any of the three men speaking in Greensboro this weekend. In hypothetical head-to-head matchups, only Gov. DeSantis leads Biden (43.6-41). Biden led Trump and Pence each by two percentage points. All of those matchups polled within the margin of error. 

“I think we’re going to be right in the middle of the primary and the general election as well,” said state Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham). “At the federal level, the winning message is going to be a combination of concerns about the border, concerns about the debt and questions about whether we want to continue on the direction the Biden administration is taking us in in terms of… the administrative state and the power of the presidency being expanded.”  

While he lost re-election, former President Trump won in North Carolina in 2020, beating Biden by about 1.3%. A separate High Point poll last August found 42% of North Carolina voters approved of former President Trump, compared to 51% who disapproved. North Carolina is expected in 2024 to be among the key states that determine who wins the presidency. 

While Democrats have been able to win the White House without North Carolina, Cooper pointed out it’s a must-win for Republicans.  

“Every dollar the Democrats put into North Carolina is another dollar the Republicans have to spend trying to match that. Every visit the Democrats have is a visit the Republicans need to have as well,” he said. 

A key thing he’ll be watching is whether former President Trump makes an endorsement this weekend in the state’s governor’s races. 

He surprised people two years ago when he made an unexpected endorsement in the state’s U.S. Senate race, backing Ted Budd who went on to win.  

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson is seeking the GOP nomination along with Treasurer Dale Folwell and former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker. Polling has shown Robinson with a commanding lead. On the Democratic side, state Atty. Gen. Josh Stein is the lone candidate.