Raleigh, N.C. — With Super Tuesday in the rearview mirror, presidential candidates begin turning their attention to North Carolina this week in advance of the March 15 primary.
Former President Bill Clinton campaigned in Raleigh for his wife, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, on Monday morning and was scheduled to make similar appearances in Greensboro and Charlotte later in the day. Hillary Clinton was expected to make her own swing through the state on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Republican front-runner Donald Trump stopped in Concord Monday afternoon and was scheduled to hold a rally in Fayetteville on Wednesday night, and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is expected to hold a rally at Calvary Baptist Church in Raleigh on Tuesday.
"She always makes something good happen, and that's what you want in a president," Bill Clinton said of his wife, listing her past successes with expanding preschool, public health and legal aid programs in rural areas and her efforts as U.S. senator and secretary of state to help with disaster recovery and curb nuclear proliferation.
The former president outlined for scores of supporters at City Market in downtown Raleigh Hillary Clinton's plans to make college more affordable, expand domestic clean energy production, upgrade crumbling infrastructure, bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. and extend high-speed Internet access to rural areas. He also attempts by some Republican candidates to "demonize Muslims as a group" and the Senate's refusal to vote on any U.S. Supreme Court nominee until next year.
Bill Clinton also turned Trump's signature campaign line on its head, stealing some rhetoric from Republican presidential candidate John Kasich and former candidate Jeb Bush in the process.
"She does not agree with the other party when they say they want to make America great again. This country never stopped being great," Clinton said. "But we do need to make America whole again so we can all rise together."
Republicans fired back against the Clintons, noting neither one has ever carried North Carolina in a general election.
"North Carolinians have already rejected Clinton and her husband three times before. No amount of spin will change the fact that voters don’t trust Hillary Clinton," Kara Carter, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said in a statement.
Bill Clinton did win the Democratic primary in North Carolina in 1992 and 1996.
Margaret Zahn of Raleigh was among those in the crowd who remain undecided a week before the primary, but she said the former president set out a compelling argument for Hillary Clinton.
"Well-defined plans backed up well with data," Zahn said. "The best that I've heard, and I've listened to every debate with everybody."
Emily Larson of Wake Forest brought her children, Nolan and Collette, to the rally.
"He's 5, so I want him to start to realize how people come together for certain causes," Larson said.
In Concord, Trump entertained a raucous crowd estimated at more than 3,000 at the Cabarrus Arena with his usual blend of campaign trash talk, personal promotion and an almost stream-of-conscious talk about rebuilding everything from the public education system to the military while bringing jobs back to the U.S.
"Our country doesn't win anymore. We're going to start winning again," he said, promising to defeat Islamic State forces, repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace Common Core with state-by-state academic standards.
Trump referred to his two main rivals, Ted Cruz and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, as "lyin' Ted Cruz" and "little Marco," and he yelled, "Go home to Mommy" at one of the handful of protesters who were removed from the event.
NASCAR driver Mark Martin appeared on stage at the start of the rally, encouraging Trump to "build that wall" the candidate has vowed to erect on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Early voting for the primary runs through Saturday, and almost 166,000 ballots have already been cast, according to the State Board of Elections. In the first four days of early voting in 2012, about 34,000 ballots had been cast, but the early voting period was 17 days long in the election, compared with 10 days now.