LUMBERTON — Lara Trump campaigned for her father-in-law across her home state of North Carolina on Friday, stopping in Robeson County to shake hands with voters, cut a ceremonial ribbon at the headquarters of the Robeson County Republican Party and tout the candidate she says can turn America around.
“I can tell you my parents raised me with certain values and I could never be a part of a family and represent a man or speak on his behalf if I did not truly believe he was a great person and that’s exactly what Donald Trump is,” the North Carolina State University graduate told a crowd of about 50 people in Lumberton.
The Wilmington native made stops in her hometown, Whiteville and Bolivia before visiting Lumberton. After leaving Lumberton, she was slated for two appearances in Elizabethtown on Friday.
Married to Eric Trump, she now lives and works in New York, but took two months off from her job at CBS to stump for her father-in-law. Before her remarks, Danny Britt, a Lumberton attorney running to for the Senate District 13 seat representing Robeson, took the podium.
According to some polls, Trump in recent weeks has overtaken his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, in North Carolina. Both candidates have recently visited the state, with Trump stopping in Fayetteville twice.
“We feel great, especially in North Carolina,” Lara Trump said. “We have a very grassroots volunteer base here.”
Phillip Stephens, chairman of the Robeson County Republican Party, said it’s “a huge deal” to host an official surrogate of a Republican presidential nominee, especially one from the Tar Heel State.
“With Trump being elected you’d have someone very close to the Trump circle in the White House that appreciates North Carolina, that has been in Robeson County and understands the issues we deal with in Robeson County,” he said. “She is purposefully making a sweep through the South today but she’s not going to the big cities. She’s purposefully going to the small rural communities like Robeson County.”
Stephens said Trump’s stance on trade resonates deeply in Robeson County, where thousands of manufacturing jobs were lost following the ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994. Trump has said he would renegotiate NAFTA and impose taxes on imports from Mexico and China.
“Robeson County has been devastated by NAFTA,” he said. “We’ve been devastated with the loss of industry in this county and this has been one of Trump’s key messages. He says when NATFA was ratified — by both parties by the way — we never had free trade … I hope [Lara Trump] sees that the message that Trump is providing directly affects Robeson County.”
Jobs and the national debt are the biggest issues this election for Lewis and Joyce Bruce of Lumberton, who attended Friday’s event.
“I think he can put us back where we need to be as a respected country,” Lewis Bruce said.
Bruce said he appreciates that Lara Trump took the time to stop in Robeson County and was looking forward to hearing from her that the candidate “will be what he has said he will be.”
Brenda Pope, acting president of the Robeson County Republican Women group, said the visit is a testament to the growth of the Republican Party in Robeson County.
“It was so small you could fit it in a phone booth,” she said. “Look at us now, we’re a force to be reckoned with.”
Pope brought along her 7-year-old great-granddaughter, Kaitlyn Page, who has attended GOP events with her since the age of 2. Page, already a Trump supporter, was in charge of handing out “Trump-Pence” stickers and got a few autographs from her candidate’s daughter-in-law.
“He’s a nice guy, he lets us do what we want, he wears the colors of the flag and he’s a Republican,” she said, explaining why she favors the candidate.
Lara Trump said across North Carolina “the thing I hear the most is we have to get him elected. He is the only hope we have left.”
When her father-in-law announced his bid for the White House, she volunteered to campaign for him in North Carolina, in part to try to correct a “false narrative that existed out there, especially about him and women.”
During the tour, she has made a point to talk up Trump’s proposals for paid maternity leave and an income tax deduction for child-care expenses. Critics have said the six weeks provided by the maternity leave plan isn’t enough and that the tax cut wouldn’t help low-income families that really need the break.
“He wants to make it easier on families across the country to have children, to continue working and wants to make sure that if you have elderly parents you can take care of them as well,” Lara Trump said. “These are all things I think the more people hear from Donald Trump the more they understand what he wants to do for this country and the more inclined I think they’ll be to vote for him.”
Among the concerns North Carolina voters shared with her during the tour are national security and the effect of the Affordable Care Act on small businesses.
“People feel very strongly that this election is a turning point in our country,” she said.
Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets.