RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Republican Donald Trump has won a key victory in the Southern battleground state of North Carolina, defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton in the state's presidential election.

Trump defeated Clinton on Tuesday in a general election that was widely seen as a referendum on several years of GOP control under Gov. Pat McCrory. It also was strongly influenced by a law limiting LGBT rights that was signed and defended by McCrory.

North Carolina's 15 electoral votes are considered crucial in the battle for the White House. The state has gone to a Democrat only once since Jimmy Carter's election in 1976, when Barack Obama narrowly won the state in 2008.

Trump and running mate Mike Pence frequently visited North Carolina in recent months, targeting rural areas where they enjoyed strong support.