Charlotte, N.C. — Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton took Republican rival Donald Trump to task Thursday for his infatuation with Russian President Vladimir Putin and also criticized North Carolina's Republican leaders for their efforts to restrict voting and promote discrimination against gay and transgender people.
Clinton appeared at a rally at Johnson C. Smith University, a historically black school in Charlotte, and also attended a private fundraiser in the Queen City. It marked her first visit to North Carolina in more than a month, although running mate Tim Kaine and former President Bill Clinton have stumped in the state in recent weeks.
During a Wednesday night forum in which Clinton and Trump answered questions about U.S. foreign policy and military oversight, Trump criticized President Barack Obama's performance as commander-in-chief as well as the leadership of many U.S. generals. At the same time, he said Putin was a more effective leader and that he planned to work with the Russian president.
"That is not just unpatriotic," Clinton said of Trump's preference for Putin over Obama. "It's not just insulting to the office and the man who holds the office. It is scary. It is dangerous."
House Speaker Paul Ryan joined a growing number of Republicans to split with Trump over his stance toward Russia and his criticism of the U.S. military, and Clinton said it's time for the GOP "to put country over party."
"We have never been threatened as much by a single candidate running for president as we have been in this election," she said.
Clinton also took aim at North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and Republican legislative leaders for passing the state's voter ID law and House Bill 2, which prohibits anti-discrimination protections from being extended to gay and transgender people.
"This is a state that often set the standard of moving people forward," she said, calling voter ID and other changes to North Carolina's election laws an "underhanded, mean-spirited effort."
"These laws are a blast from the Jim Crow past, and they have no place in 21st-century America," she said.
Meanwhile, House Bill 2 is an example of the "discriminatory, bigoted policies" of the state's Republican leadership that has alienated businesses and others, she said.
Clinton has slipped in recent polls, especially among male voters, but her supporters still insist she's the most qualified to be president.
"She's a senator, a secretary of state, Armed Forces Committee. She's a strong woman. She's been through a lot," said Mike Markel of Huntersville.
Clinton's Director of State Campaigns Marlon Marshall predicted her grassroots organization in North Carolina will turn energy into votes and ultimately trump Trump.
"We have hundreds of staff, over 30 offices. We've been here since the campaign started registering voters, working to expand the electorate. We're going to turn votes out," Marshall said.
Trump, who held a Greenville rally on Tuesday, will return to the state next Monday with a 6 p.m. rally at Asheville's Cellular Center.