Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina will take center stage in the presidential race Tuesday, with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump making campaign stops in the state hours apart.
As an added bonus, President Barack Obama will make his first appearance at a Clinton campaign event.
"It sends the message that North Carolina is critical for both Democrats and Republicans in the general election," said David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College.
Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, and Obama will hit the state first with a 3 p.m. rally at the Charlotte Convention Center.
Obama is expected to reassure voters skeptical of Clinton's honesty with a personal narrative of how he came to depend on her as his secretary of state after running against her in 2008.
"It's his first official campaign trip, and it says a lot about how important North Carolina is in the scheme of this general election," said state Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake.
Obama carried North Carolina in 2008 and narrowly lost it four years later, and observers say the state's 15 electoral votes will be crucial in November.
The campaign stop comes three days after the FBI interviewed Clinton about her use of a private email server as secretary of state and with the specter of potential criminal charges in the background.
"I think that the challenge is going to be to cut through all the negative stuff that is going to be coming and show people what Hillary really stands for, why it is important in America to have a leader who understands the world, who understands how to make America lead in the world," Blue said.
Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, gets to respond with a 7 p.m. rally at Memorial Auditorium in downtown Raleigh.
"He can steal some of the president’s and Secretary Clinton’s thunder by appearing in the same state on the same day," McLennan said. "It's an important state for him too. Republicans don’t tend to win the presidency without winning North Carolina."
North Carolina Republican Party spokeswoman Kami Mueller said Trump should be able to capitalize on Obama's appearance with Clinton by raising even more questions.
"Should someone whose own administration is investigating the next Democratic candidate be campaigning with her across the state?" Mueller said. "I think the average North Carolinian would say, 'No, that’s inappropriate.'"
McLennan said a tight presidential race in North Carolina will affect other races on the ballot this fall, including governor and U.S. Senate.
"It is going to be a sharp contrast between those who want to see the Obama administration’s policies continued and those who say, 'No, we need a change of the guard,'" he said.