President Donald Trump returned to North Carolina on Monday, stumping in Fayetteville for Republican candidates on the eve of two special congressional elections, including a tight and closely watched race in the 9th district.
The president mostly shied away from the personal attacks on Democrats that highlighted his previous rally in the state. And he largely avoided the latest controversies surrounding Hurricane Dorian’s projected path and the transfer of money from military projects, including those in North Carolina, to his long-promised wall along the southern border.
Though Trump did promote his 2020 re-election bid, he was drawn back to the state by a very tight U.S. House race in the 9th district, which stretches from Fayetteville to Charlotte. Republican Dan Bishop and Democrat Dan McCready hope to secure a seat that was left vacant after the North Carolina elections board found absentee ballot fraud in the November election.
Republican state Rep. Greg Murphy and Democrat Allen Thomas are the top candidates in Eastern North Carolina’s 3rd district. Election Day is Tuesday, Sept. 10.
“Radical Democrats want to dismantle, demolish and destroy everything you’ve gained,” Trump told the crowd at the Fayetteville Crown Expo Center. “That’s why we need Dan Bishop and Greg Murphy.”
Democrats took back the U.S. House in 2018, ending two years of unified Republican control of the government, by winning 40 seats held by Republicans. The 9th district race could be seen as a harbinger of 2020, and the administration went all out Monday to push for Bishop in a district Trump carried by 12 points in 2016. Polls indicate a very close race.
Vice President Mike Pence campaigned in the district earlier in the day before joining Trump in Fayetteville.
Trump called Bishop and Murphy to the stage early in his speech.
“We’re not tired of winning. We want to keep on winning,” Bishop told the crowd. He said he would be “a fighter for the values of the 9th district in Washington, D.C.” and would support Trump, who he called “the greatest fighter to ever occupy the White House.”
Murphy, who is running to replace the late Rep. Walter Jones, said he needed voters to show up. “We’re here to serve you, here to help our president and here to keep America great,” Murphy said.
Stuck to the script
Monday’s rally marked the second time Trump campaigned for the Republican congressional candidates this summer. At his July event in Greenville, Trump launched attacks against four Democratic congresswomen of color, including U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. The crowd chanted “send her back.”
At the Fayetteville event, Trump largely stuck to his script, touting his accomplishments across the board and slamming Democrats in general. He laid out the case for his re-election in 2020 and joked, he said, that he might need an additional term so he could be president when the U.S. hosts the World Cup soccer tournament in 2026.
Trump did not refer to any of the two dozen or so Democratic presidential candidates by name, but did reference former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, two top candidates, with derogatory nicknames.
“You don’t have any choice. You have to vote for me,” Trump said. “What are you doing to do: Put one of these crazy people running our country again?”
He attacked McCready as a supporter of liberal Democratic policies, including sanctuary cities and counties. PolitiFact rated a previous Trump claim that McCready “believes in open borders and sanctuary cities” as Mostly False.
In 2018, McCready trailed by 905 votes in an unofficial count to Republican Mark Harris, a Baptist pastor. But the state board never certified the results, citing illegal absentee ballot collection by an operative working for the Harris campaign in Bladen County. Harris opted not to run in the special election.
McCready, a former Marine, also campaigned in Fayetteville on Monday, appearing with a group of veterans.
“This has been a campaign where we face politics at its worst,” McCready said, alluding to the election fraud. “We faced politics at its worst in Bladen County, where we saw them steal absentee ballots from voters’ doorsteps and target the elderly and African Americans and Native Americans.”
Libertarian Jeff Scott and Allen Smith of the Green Party are also running.
The 9th district has not had a representative since the new Congress convened in January. The 3rd district seat has been vacant since Jones’ death on Feb. 10. North Carolina has 13 seats in the U.S. House.
Money from bases
Trump’s visit came less than a week after the Pentagon reported plans to divert about $80 million away from North Carolina’s military bases to pay for his proposed border wall. About $32.9 million is coming from a proposed but previously canceled elementary school at Fort Bragg, the Army base just 13 miles down the road from the rally. (Updated to clarify that the school project that is listed as losing funding was previously canceled.)
Trump did not mention the diverted money, but he thanked Defense Secretary Mark Esper for viewing the border as “a national security threat.”
Thomas, a former mayor of Greenville and former executive director of the Global Transpark in Kinston, said he spent the day meeting with voters in Jacksonville. Among the military projects that are losing money in North Carolina are $40 million for a new battalion complex and ambulatory care center at Camp Lejeune and $6.4 million for a storage facility for the new KC-46 tanker at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.
Thomas called the move “unprecedented” and said he would not blindly follow another politician if elected.
“My job is to represent the people of the 3rd district. When that’s in accord, we can work together. When it’s in conflict, I’m going to look after the people in my district,” Thomas said. “I think that’s the clear difference in this race.”
Libertarian Tim Harris and Constitution Party candidate Greg Holt are also running in the 3rd district.
Hurricane Dorian briefing
Trump had planned to tour areas impacted by last week’s Hurricane Dorian, but inclement weather kept him from doing so. Trump was briefed by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, and other state officials about the impact to the state.
“North Carolina, in our country, probably got hit the hardest,” Trump said, a reference to the devastation brought by Dorian to the Bahamas. “That was a little bit of a surprise.”
But he promised the “unwavering” support of the American people to North Carolina and said the hard-hit areas will be “back sooner than anybody ever thought and be better than ever, no doubt about it.”
Last week, Trump faced criticism for repeatedly insisting that Alabama was threatened by Hurricane Dorian. At one point, he “grossly overstated” what was predicted, PolitiFact found. Trump did not mention the ongoing controversy over those statements during the rally.