FAYETTEVILLE — President Donald Trump got on stage at around 7 p.m. at Fayetteville’s Crown Expo Center with a cheering crowd of supporters to greet him. Vice President Mike Pence, Donald Trump Jr. and the two local Republican congressional candidates they were there to support — state Sen. Dan Bishop, running in the NC-9 special election, and state Rep. Greg Murphy, running in the NC-3 special election — each had their moments on stage.
“The most valuable thing, the most valuable commodity we have on the campaign trail is the president’s time,” Tim Murtaugh, director of communications for the Trump campaign, told North State Journal moments before the president began his speech. “So the fact that we’re here for this special election is a big indicator of what we think of North Carolina.”
He said with the national convention in Charlotte and other recent visits from the president, they see North Carolina as a key part of their map to victory.
“We’ll be back to North Carolina quite a bit,” Murtaugh added. “It’s an important state.”
Murtaugh said in the 2016 race, Eric Trump’s wife, Lara, who is a native of Wilmington and a graduate of North Carolina State University, was tasked by then-candidate Trump with winning the state.
“She’s one of our best campaign weapons. She’ll hit the campaign trail sometime soon,” Murtaugh said, saying Lara Trump would likely be given the lead role in the state again but is resting after recently giving birth.
In the president’s speech, he was clear that he wanted to run on his record up to this point.
“We are entering this campaign with the best record, the best results, the best agenda and the only positive vision for the people of North Carolina,” President Trump said. “And I’ve said it, and I say it loudly and proudly, I don’t believe there’s been any president or any administration that has done more in two and a half years than we have as a group.”
Murtaugh said that in 2016, the president made a lot of promises in the state about turning around the economy, bringing back manufacturing jobs to North Carolina and fighting to make the nation strong on the world stage — and kept his word.
“In 2020, the campaign’s message will be, ‘I made promises to you, and I kept them,’” Murtaugh said. “The president did that. He promised to make America great again, and now the promise is to keep America great — to keep going.”
The president’s campaign claims they are not paying any attention to primary opponents, saying Trump’s approval ratings within the GOP are over 90%.
According to Murtaugh, Republican challengers like Joe Walsh of Illinois or Mark Sanford of South Carolina “do not even rise to the level of being a distraction. We don’t give them a second thought. They’re completely irrelevant to what we do day-to-day. We’re focused on November 2020 and who our eventual Democratic opponent will be.”
In his speech Monday, Trump painted the special election races as part of that larger picture.
“Our first task is a giant victory tomorrow,” Trump said. “Right here in the great state of North Carolina with your support tomorrow, we take the first steps to firing Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi and winning back the House in 2020. We need everybody to get your friends, get your family, get your neighbors and get out and vote for Dan Bishop, and get out and vote for Greg Murphy.”
Bishop asked the audience to “send a congressman with backbone” to Washington, D.C., by voting for him the next day, Sept. 10 when the final vote was taken.
Contrasting himself with his potential 2020 general election opponents, Trump said none of them would be able to stand up to China on trade, to Mexico on borders or to NATO on getting them to pay “their share” of the alliance’s military budget.
“China has taken advantage of our country for decades, and I guarantee you one thing — none of these Democrats, whether it’s Pocahontas or Sleepy Joe, none of them, would be able to do a thing about it, and nobody would ever think of helping the farmers who have been targeted by China.”
Murtaugh said the campaign believes they can expand their map beyond those states Trump won in 2016, and they are now targeting Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Colorado and New Mexico. He said that “even Oregon is on the edge of possibility.”
For North Carolina, Murtaugh said it is one they are “going to pay special attention to.” He said there is already full-time staff on the ground in the state and there is cooperation among the RNC, the state party and Trump Victory Campaign to begin establishing infrastructure early.