LUMBERTON — With less than two weeks before the final day of voting and his wife looking to become the first female commander-in-chief, President Bill Clinton visited Robeson County on Wednesday, trying to turn a Republican stronghold into a blue state that could doom the Trump campaign.
As part of a two-day swing through North Carolina, President Clinton visited the Bill Sapp Recreation Center in Lumberton to talk with flood victims, members of the Red Cross and held an impromptu gathering of local residents.
In Pembroke, Clinton visited The University of North Carolina at Pembroke campus, where he spoke to a crowd of students and residents at the college bookstore. The media did not have access to him to ask questions.
With North Carolina pinpointed as a swing state in the presidential campaign, Hillary and Bill Clinton as well as first lady Michelle Obama all have several events scheduled this week. Hillary Clinton’s rival in the tight race made two stops in North Carolina Wednesday. Donald Trump rallied a crowd in Charlotte before making an appearance in Kinston, an area hit hard by Hurricane Matthew.
At Pembroke, the two-term former president urged early voting and participation in the election before touting his wife’s economic policy. President Clinton urged North Carolinians to come together and be unified as he spoke out against House Bill 2 and divisive rhetoric, though he did not mention Republican nominee Donald Trump by name.
“When she says stronger together, she says this wall-building and anti-Muslim rhetoric is not only bad for America, it’s bad for the rest of the world,” President Clinton said. “We live in a world where we have to have partners.”
“Stronger together” is the theme of the bus tour which President Clinton is on. On social media many UNCP students used the hashtag along with pictures of the former president.
In Lumberton, inside the Bill Sapp Recreation Center, which is still being used as a shelter following Matthew, Clinton talked with those hit hard by the storm. Clinton discussed the situation of each person he met, shaking hands and sharing smiles with children.
“It always feels like a regular day, but this time a little something out of the routine really gave an uplifting spirit to some people for whom this process has been a little bit longer than they thought it would be,” said Star Houston, part of the Red Cross management team. “It’s nice to have a little lift that came out of nowhere.”
Outside of the recreation center as Cinton prepared to leave for Pembroke, dozens of people called out to him and wanted to shake his hand, get a high-five or have a photograph with him.
“I love that man,” Jaliah Jenkins said.
“North Carolina loves you, Mr. President,” Jenkins shouted towards Clinton.
Clinton, wearing a large blue “H” pin with an arrow, the logo for his wife’s presidential campaign, took time to greet the crowd of people before being ushered back into his vehicle by aides and Secret Service.
“It’s exciting, it’s exciting for the people here, it gives them hope,” said Lumberton Mayor Bruce Davis, who walked Clinton around the shelter. “Hopefully he will go back and speak to some people that we don’t know and maybe he can generate some help in our direction. If he does, I am grateful.”
Most polls show Hillary Clinton leading Trump in North Carolina, a state that has gone to a Democratic presidential candidate only once since 1980, when President Obama won it in 2008.
Reach Mike Gellatly on Twitter @MikeGellatly