Donald Trump to use courtroom reprieve to campaign in North Carolina

Donald Trump to use courtroom reprieve to campaign in North Carolina

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — On a weekend reprieve from the courtroom, former President Donald Trump will campaign Saturday in North Carolina as he juggles legal troubles and his rematch against President Joe Biden. 

Trump’s evening stop in the coastal city of Wilmington marks his first rally since his criminal hush money trial began this week with jury selection in Manhattan. The occasion offers the former president a fresh chance to amplify claims that his multiple pending indictments are an establishment conspiracy to take him down — and, by extension, squelch the voters who first elected him eight years ago. 

“They want to keep me off the campaign trail,” Trump insisted earlier this week in Harlem, where he visited a neighborhood convenience store and addressed a throng of media outside. Rather than pursue violent criminals, he alleged, “They go after Trump.” 

The event Saturday also underscores the importance of North Carolina, a presidential battleground that Trump won by less than 1.5 percentage points over Biden in 2020. That was the closest margin of any state that Trump won. Saturday will be the second time in as many months that Trump has come to the state. Biden has traveled to North Carolina twice this year, and Vice President Kamala Harris has been four times. 

“The presidential race is going to run through North Carolina,” said Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, in a recent interview. 

North Carolina is one of seven states that both the Trump and Biden campaigns have said they will dedicate significant campaign resources to winning. Trump has insisted he wants to widen the map, even into his native New York, which is heavily Democratic. Most Republicans, though, agree that Trump will have a difficult path to an Electoral College majority if Biden were to win North Carolina’s 16 electoral votes. Trump tacitly acknowledged North Carolina’s status by tapping then-state Republican Chairman Michael Whatley to lead his campaign’s effective takeover of the Republican National Committee. 

There is no precedent for the kind of campaign Trump now has to run — in North Carolina and nationally. 

With opening arguments of his trial expected Monday, Trump will be confined to the courtroom for the immediate future, limiting his ability to see voters, fundraise and make calls. Biden, conversely, spent multiple days this week campaigning in Pennsylvania, another key battleground. Trump aides have promised weekend rallies and events on Wednesdays, the one weekday Trump’s trial is expected to be in recess. The former president’s campaign also has promised additional weeknight appearances around New York, as in Harlem. 

That schedule adds pressure for Trump to maximize his limited opportunities to reach voters and command media attention beyond his indictments. 

In North Carolina, Biden’s campaign already has hired statewide leadership and field organizers for offices across the state. That’s on top of state party staff that began an organizing program last year ahead of municipal races and looking to this year’s statewide races – including an open governor’s race since Cooper is barred from seeking a third term. 

“We needed to build energy on the ground early,” said state Democratic Chairwoman Anderson Clayton, noting that the last Democratic presidential nominee to win North Carolina — Barack Obama in 2008 — had organized the state in a hotly contested primary campaign that ramped up the previous year. 

Matt Mercer, spokesman for the North Carolina Republican Party, countered that veteran GOP staffers have been working in the state since the 2020 election cycle. Mercer said the GOP, from Trump to volunteers, will stress a family-first message around the economy and public safety. 

Voters, Mercer said, “understand the importance of what those messages mean to them in their daily lives” and are “fed up” with Biden, “whether it’s with sky high inflation, the open southern border or the migrant crime crisis.” 

Trump will be joined Saturday by North Carolina Republican gubernatorial nominee Mark Robinson, whom Trump has endorsed and called “Martin Luther King on steroids.” Robinson is the first Black lieutenant governor of the state. 

Cooper won the governor’s office in 2016 and 2020, attracting enough swing voters even as Trump carried the state in each of those presidential contests. 

The governor argued that Biden’s record — low unemployment, rising wages, stabilized inflation, infrastructure and green energy investments — will resonate with a geographically and demographically diverse state. 

“Joe Biden did more in his first two years than most presidents hope to do in two terms,” Cooper said, adding that juxtaposing Biden’s accomplishments with Trump’s baggage will persuade enough voters to reelect the president. 

Biden’s campaign, meanwhile, noted in a statement Saturday ahead of Trump’s visit the unabashed rightward turn North Carolina Republicans have made in recent years. The campaign cited a 2023 statewide ban on abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy. Cooper vetoed the measure but GOP lawmakers used their legislative supermajority — which was elected under gerrymandered maps drawn by Republicans — to override his veto. 

  • PublishedApril 20, 2024

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