Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton sought to steer her campaign back on track Thursday as she returned to North Carolina with what she described as a new focus – and a slap at the state’s controversial House Bill 2.
Her visit to UNC Greensboro came a day after the Atlantic Coast Conference canceled its football championship in Charlotte and two days after the NCAA canceled a series of championship games in the state.
“If anyone wonders what the costs of discrimination are, just ask the people and businesses of North Carolina,” she said. “Witness what’s happening with the NCAA and the ACC. This is where bigotry leads and we can’t afford it, not here or anywhere else.”
Talking about children and struggling families, she said she’s also “running for the LGBT teenager here in North Carolina who sees your governor sign a bill legalizing discrimination.”
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The rally that drew about 1,500 people was Clinton’s first public appearance since being diagnosed with what her doctor called mild pneumonia last weekend. She entered a UNCG student center to the strains of James Brown singing “I Feel Good.”
Clinton has been criticized for being slow to disclose her illness, which raised questions about her health. Speaking to reporters later Thursday afternoon, she said, “Look, this was an ailment that many people just power through and I thought I would as well.”
“I didn’t want to stop. I didn’t want to quit campaigning. I certainly didn’t want to miss the 9/11 memorial. … It didn’t work out. So I got the antibiotics up and going, got the rest that I needed and moved on from there.”
Clinton began her 22-minute speech by mentioning her illness, and said there are millions of Americans who can’t take time off to recover as she did.
“They either go to work sick or they lose a paycheck,” Clinton said. “They toss back a Tylenol and they chug orange juice. For millions of moms and dads, if they get sick there is no backup. That’s the story of too many people still in America.”
Questions about her health punctuated a difficult week for the Democratic candidate, with Republican Donald Trump narrowing her lead in some polls and even leading in key battlegrounds. Trump himself is expected to campaign in the Triad next week.
Clinton’s appearance followed her comment at a fundraiser last week when she said half of Trump’s supporters belong in a “basket of deplorables.” She didn’t reference that controversial remark Thursday, though the Trump campaign did.
“Hillary Clinton’s visit to Greensboro couldn’t be timed any worse, coming right after she let slip to a group of fat cat donors at a Wall Street fundraiser that she views half of the American electorate – including millions of veterans, police officers, firefighters, and working moms – as either ‘deplorable’ or ‘desperate’,” Trump campaign state director Jason Simmons said in a statement.
On Thursday, she criticized Trump, who she said holds opposite positions on everything from climate change to national security. She alluded to his recent comments that he would shoot Iranian ships “out of the water” if they harassed American ships.
“He would start a war over that,” Clinton said. Later in her speech, she called Trump a “loose cannon” who would risk “everything that generations of Americans have built.”
Clinton said she will “never be the showman my opponent is, and that’s OK with me.”
“Let’s talk about what really matters,” she said. “And here’s my promise to you. I’m going to close my campaign the way I began my career and the way I will serve as your president … focused on opportunities for kids and fairness for families…
“From now until Nov. 8, everywhere I go I’m going to talk about my ideas for our country.”
Clinton joked that, as a public servant, she is better at the service part than the public part. She also tried to make light of her reputation as a policy wonk.
“We have rolled out detailed policy in 38 areas,” she said. “I have this old-fashioned notion that if you are running for president you should say what you are going to do, how you are going to get it done and how you are going to pay for it.”
She added: “Like a lot of women, I have a tendency to over prepare. I sweat the details.”
In addition to her comments on HB2 – the law that requires transgender people to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate in government buildings – Clinton also alluded to the sweeping voter law that was overturned by a federal court.
“You know what your governor and legislature tried to do,” she said. “Make it harder for young people to vote, harder for people of color, harder for people with disabilities ..... There can’t be any more motivation than that to make sure every young person, every person of color, every person with a disability” to vote.
Recent polls averaged by RealClear Politics give Clinton a lead over Trump in North Carolina of less than 1 percentage point.
Attorney General Roy Cooper, the Democratic candidate for governor who opposed HB2, has a bigger lead over Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. Recent polls averaged by RealClear Politics give Cooper a 6-point lead over McCrory, who signed HB2 into law.