Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump promised a “new deal for black America” Wednesday during a rare policy speech at uptown Charlotte’s Spirit Square.
Speaking to an invitation-only audience that was predominantly white, he talked about launching a new “urban renewal” in America’s inner cities and unlocking the “potential” of the African-American community.
“Here is the promise I make to you whether you vote for me or not: I will be your greatest champion,” he said, addressing the black community.
“We keep electing the same people over and over and they keep coming back to the African-American and the Hispanic community and keep talking about what they’re going to do .… I will never, ever, take the African-American community for granted. Never ever. Unlike Hillary Clinton.”
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Among other proposals, Trump said he would push for tax holidays for inner-city investment and new tax incentives for foreign companies to relocate in what he called “blighted American neighborhoods.”
Before speaking to the 500 or so supporters – many were Republican Party volunteers from Mecklenburg and surrounding counties – Trump held a roundtable discussion backstage with eight local African-Americans, as well as Omarosa Manigault. She was a contestant on the first season of “The Apprentice,” Trump’s former NBC-TV reality show, and now is his director of outreach to African-Americans.
Some audience members said they received their tickets to Trump’s speech because they attended a Wednesday morning program featuring Dr. Ben Carson at First Baptist Church of Charlotte.
Carson is an African-American surgeon who was among Trump’s rivals for the Republican presidential nomination. In an interview at the church, he told the Observer that he expects Trump to do better than many polls are saying and that he would be open to being an adviser to a President Trump.
“I will always be there to help,” he said.
During his backstage roundtable discussion, Trump said he’s been accepted by the black community. “The response has been unbelievable,” Trump said about enthusiasm from black Americans.
But, in fact, Trump’s support among black voters stands at just 4 percent, according to a CBS News poll released last week. That’s lower than most Republican presidential candidates in the past, which may stem from bad feelings about Trump’s charge over the years that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. Also a likely factor in North Carolina: A voter ID plan approved by the Republican-controlled state legislature thrown out this year by a panel of federal judges. They said it was passed with “discriminatory intent.”
Trump’s appearance in this battleground state – he also gave a speech later Wednesday in Kinston – came as polls show the presidential race tightening overall. But with less than two weeks to go before Election Day, Democrat Clinton still leads by 5.6 points nationally, according to Real Clear Politics polling average.
Clinton returns to North Carolina on Thursday for a rally at Wake Forest University with first lady Michelle Obama.
The GOP nominee touched on familiar subjects during his Charlotte speech, including immigration, taxes, health care and plans for a $1 trillion investment in national infrastructure.
But he kept returning to the theme that he first addressed during a Charlotte rally in August: how his policies would benefit “the inner cities.”
Speaking a few blocks from where riots followed last month’s police shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott, Trump criticized what he called “uneven justice.” He promised that justice would be applied “fairly and equally and without prejudice” with safe neighborhoods.
“I want every poor African-American child to be able to walk down the street … and not be scared,” he said. “Safety is a civil right. The problem is not the presence of police but the absence of police. … We must work with our police, not against them.”
Trump said his policies on immigration, trade and education all would benefit black Americans. “School choice is the greatest civil rights issue of our time,” he said.
Some black leaders dismissed what one called Trump’s “false promises.”
“It sounds like a desperate, last-minute political trick,” said state Sen. Joel Ford, a Charlotte Democrat. “If he was serious, his organization and the businesses he owns would reflect those values, and African-Americans who’ve worked for him over the years would be coming out of the woodwork singing his praises.”
But some of the African-American supporters who met with Trump before his speech said he would be a better choice than Democrats who take their votes, but don’t deliver results for their communities.
“As an African-American, I haven’t seen anything that Obama has actually done (for the black community),” said Ty Turner, a radio show host at 103.3 FM and special events chairman for the Mecklenburg County Republican Party. “He’s done more for Latinos and illegals and LGBT (persons). We’ve been given crumbs – a song here, a dance there.”
Added Trina Elliott of Rutherford County: “Trump’s got a plan to change things.”
Trump was introduced by Leon Threatt, an African-American Republican from Matthews who is running for Congress in the 12th District. He’s bullish about Trump’s chances in North Carolina and across the country.
“I’m pretty confident that he’ll win this thing in a landslide,” Threatt said. “I think we’ll see something similar across the nation. It’s looking real good. And I think the American people are ready for that.”
But U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, a Charlotte Democrat and African-American who is Threatt’s opponent, criticized Trump in a statement released by the Clinton campaign: “Donald Trump’s campaign is built on a foundation of harmful prejudices and economic policies which only benefit millionaires like himself while leaving hardworking North Carolina families behind.…
“It is clear that the only ticket in this election that values the success of all people in this country is Clinton-Kaine.”