Casting the presidential campaign as an audition for commander-in-chief, Hillary Clinton told Charlotte supporters Thursday that Donald Trump had disqualified himself for the job by “trash-talking” about American generals and promoting the leadership style of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
“What would Ronald Reagan say about a Republican nominee who attacks America’s generals and who heaps praise on Russia’s president?” Clinton said, referring to comments her Republican rival made Wednesday night during an NBC forum on national security.
The Democratic nominee, speaking to about 1,550 people at Johnson C. Smith University, also took aim at a pair of North Carolina laws enacted by the GOP-controlled legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory that she called discriminatory.
A federal appeals court agreed with her on the state’s voter ID law, throwing it out because the judges said it appeared designed to restrict voting by African-Americans, who tend to vote Democratic.
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Clinton called that N.C. law and others like it around the country “blasts from the Jim Crow past (that) have no place in 21st century America.”
And Clinton charged that House Bill 2, which nullified Charlotte’s legal protections for gay, lesbian and transgender individuals, has not only hurt North Carolina’s national image but also its economy.
“Discrimination is not only wrong, it’s bad for business,” said Clinton, citing Charlotte’s loss of the NBA’s 2017 All-Star Game and hundreds of PayPal jobs.
Clinton, who hopes to carry swing state North Carolina by energizing President Barack Obama’s coalition of minorities, young people and urban women, urged those gathered for the rally at the historically black college to fight back against McCrory and the legislature by turning out to vote in November.
Clinton’s Thursday stop in Charlotte, which also included a private fundraiser, was her third trip to the city in about two months. Trump has also been a frequent visitor to the state: He addressed a Tuesday night rally in Greenville. And he’ll return for a Monday night rally at Asheville’s U.S. Cellular Center.
Their running mates and surrogates have also campaigned in the state, which is again one of the key electoral battlegrounds in the race for president. The latest polls suggest a tight race in North Carolina. Real Clear Politics polling average gives Clinton a 1.2-point lead, well within the margin of error.
Volunteers ready to register voters showed up in force at Thursday’s rally. Also in Charlotte for the event was Marlon Marshall, who’s in charge of battleground states as the national Clinton campaign’s director of state campaigns and political engagement.
Touting the campaign’s 30 N.C. field offices and 300 staffers in the state, Marshall said that “we’ve been (in North Carolina) for the whole summer registering voters and building relationships with voters. That’s going to matter when you get into early voting Oct. 20 and turn folks out.”
The Trump campaign’s ground operation is, so far, not nearly as ambitious. But it should benefit from the Republican National Committee’s recent decision to send 100 field workers to North Carolina to help the GOP nominee identify voters and get them to the polls.
GOP: Clinton unfit
Earlier Thursday, local Republicans criticized Clinton at a news conference for her use of a personal email server during her time as Secretary of State – a topic she was repeatedly asked about at the Wednesday night forum on NBC. Clinton answered the questions with a lawyer-like insistence that she did nothing improper.
She and Trump appeared back-to-back on the nationally televised forum, which included questions from an audience of military veterans. It was the first time they appeared on the same stage since they were nominated in July.
Jason Simmons, the Trump campaign’s N.C. state director, said in a Thursday statement that Clinton’s rally came “right after her dismal performance in last night’s commander-in-chief forum, where she showed herself completely unfit to serve as President. ... North Carolina voters are tired of the same old Washington corruption and back-room deals from career politicians like Hillary and will vote for change in November.”
But it was clear at her Charlotte rally Thursday that Clinton hopes to cast herself as best-qualified to be commander-in-chief and portray Trump as a dangerous risk with no credible plan to defeat ISIS and no business being anywhere near the nuclear weapon codes that are never far from the president.
Clinton repeatedly quoted Trump’s comments from the NBC forum that had “shocked” her, including his claim that America’s generals have been “reduced to rubble” during the Obama administration.
And the sights and sounds at the rally – supporters waving American flags and signs reading “USA,” as well as Clinton invoking GOP icon Reagan and pointing to her role in pursuing Osama bin Laden and other terrorists – were reminiscent of past Republican campaign events.
At one point, Clinton even questioned Trump’s patriotism, blasting him “for suggesting that he prefers the Russian president to our American president. That is not just unpatriotic. It’s not just insulting to the office and the man who holds the office. It is scary. It is dangerous.”
‘Talking to me’
When Clinton wasn’t slugging away at Trump, she seemed to be honing a new speaking style – less oration, more conversation – that could help her in the coming debates with Trump. The first one is Sept. 26.
“I felt like she was talking to me,” said Matty Lazo-Chadderton, 69, who woke up at 4:30 a.m. and drove nearly three hours from her Cary home to attend the rally. “She was so powerful, but so personal. She was the next-door girl.”
Lazo-Chadderton, who is Hispanic, said she was especially drawn to Clinton’s message about diversity.
Malcolm Garland, a 57-year-old military veteran, said he attended the rally to help register voters. An African-American, Garland acknowledged some black voters are not enthused about Clinton’s campaign. But he is urging them to vote. For Clinton – and against Trump.
“What Trump is saying we have to stand up against,” he said. “The stuff he said about the generals is weird. His vision is scary.”
After the rally, several demonstrators marched as the crowd exited the university’s gym. They chanted and carried a banner opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline, an oil construction project that has prompted demonstrations in North Dakota.
One demonstrator said she was disappointed Clinton did not address climate change in her speech.
Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts spoke at the rally, as did Josh Stein, the Democratic nominee for attorney general. But conspicuously absent were the Democrats’ two top state candidates: Roy Cooper, who is running for governor against McCrory, and Deborah Ross, who is hoping to unseat U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.