Hillary Clinton appealed for support Monday at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention in Charlotte, where she also repeatedly criticized rival Donald Trump’s statements and positions without mentioning his name.
It was Clinton’s second appearance in Charlotte this month and came three days before she’s set to accept the Democratic nomination for president. Trump, speaking in Winston-Salem on Monday night with Gov. Pat McCrory and U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, is scheduled to address the VFW on Tuesday.
Their repeated visits to North Carolina highlight the state’s growing importance as one of the few battlegrounds that could go blue or red in November. Polls show the candidates are virtually tied in North Carolina.
Speaking before a mostly full auditorium set up to hold 6,000, the former secretary of state recalled her father’s service in the Navy during World War II and her work with veterans while serving as a senator from New York. Clinton promised to make reforming the Veterans Affairs health care system a top priority, and to work to end suicide and homelessness among veterans.
I believe that he (John McCain) and all American prisoners of war are heroes and deserve respect.
She said the nation’s war memorials were built in large part because of the efforts of veterans to push for their construction.
“Those memorials might not exist if not for you,” Clinton said. “So thank you, and thank you for standing up today and every day for veterans’ health, for veterans’ education.”
It was potentially a tough crowd for Clinton: Active-duty service members favor Trump, according to a recent Military Times poll. The survey found 49 percent backed Trump and only 21 percent supported Clinton.
Before Clinton’s speech, a VFW official reminded the audience to be respectful of all the speakers coming to seek their support this week. The crowd clapped politely for Clinton, and there were no major disruptions. Near the start of Clinton’s speech, someone in the audience shouted, “How about Benghazi?” Another man said, “Can’t stand her,” and walked out as Clinton began talking.
N.C. Sen. Ronald Rabin, who represents Harnett, Johnston and Lee counties, criticized Clinton in a statement put out by the N.C. Republican Party after the speech.
“There is no one less capable of serving as commander in chief than Hillary Clinton,” said Rabin, a retired U.S. Army colonel. He referenced her private email server, for which the FBI director criticized Clinton but did not recommend charges against her. “Veterans know loose lips sink ships.”
Creating a contrast
Though Clinton didn’t mention Trump by name, she sought to draw a sharp line between herself and her opponent. In her speech, Clinton portrayed herself as the more optimistic candidate, in contrast to Trump’s message that the U.S. is in dire straits and the military is badly weakened.
Clinton said she doesn’t “understand people who trash-talk America,” and that she won’t be the candidate of “fear and smear” tactics.
Clinton also said she believes the United States is “an exceptional nation with capabilities that no other country comes close to matching. We have the world’s greatest military – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
How about Benghazi?
Man in crowd, yelling while Clinton spoke
She also highlighted some of Trump’s more controversial statements – without directly mentioning her opponent.
“You will never hear (from me) praise for dictators and strongmen who have no love for America,” she said, an apparent allusion to his comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin. Clinton also said America can’t retreat behind an “imaginary wall” and shirk leadership.
Clinton also said she will never “order troops to commit war crimes,” a reference to Trump saying he would resume waterboarding of terrorism suspects. And she made a reference to Trump’s comments that Arizona Sen. John McCain isn’t a war hero because he was captured by the North Vietnamese, and “I like people that weren’t captured.”
“I believe that he and all American prisoners of war are heroes and deserve respect,” Clinton said.
Clinton added a reference to Trump’s comments that he might not automatically defend NATO countries if they were attacked.
“I believe in standing with our allies,” Clinton said. “Generations of American troops fought and died to secure those bonds. They knew we were safer with more friends and partners.”
After the event, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee met with campaign volunteers at the Neighborhood Theatre in NoDa.
At the theater, Clinton said she has a very different vision than Trump for the nation’s future.
“When someone says ‘I alone can fix it,’ it is treating us Americans like we are somehow helpless,” she said.
On Monday morning, the Clinton campaign announced that retired Marine Gen. John Allen, former commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, has endorsed Clinton.
“I have stayed out of the political arena my entire adult life, but given the complexities of issues facing our country today and its longtime allies, I felt compelled to speak up and be heard,” he said in a statement released by the Clinton campaign. “I have no doubt that she is the leader we need at this time to keep our country safe.”
George Berthiaume, a retired Air Force veteran attending the Charlotte convention, said Monday he’s frustrated with both candidates.
“It’s just disappointing,” he said.
John Lineaweaver, who has served 18 years in the Air Force, said Clinton didn’t lay out a plan.
“She took a very political approach to tell veterans what they wanted to hear,” he said.
Allen Roberts, of Fairfax, S.C., summed up the race in a word: “Confusing.”
The 62-year-old Army veteran said he finds Trump divisive and worries about his comments that he might not automatically defend all NATO allies.
But, he added, “I could say bad things about Hillary, too.”
“One of them is going to win, no matter what,” he said. “In the end, you just hope they do the best they can for the country.”