Raleigh, N.C. — Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump and Democratic rivals Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton all campaigned Monday in North Carolina to make their final pitches to voters ahead of Tuesday's primary.
After an appearance in Durham last week, hundreds came out to see the former Clinton at the Grady Cole Center, where the former Secretary of State spoke for about 30 minutes.
Clinton began by focusing on the economy, promising to raise the minimum wage, help young entrepreneurs get small businesses off the ground, and bring jobs back from overseas.
“Nobody is more productive than the American worker and we’ve got to level the playing field so more people have a chance to compete and win in the global economy,” she said.
Clinton also criticized Republicans for creating ‘the worst economic crisis since the great depression’ and blamed state Republicans for doing ‘a terrible disservice to the people of North Carolina’ when it comes to education.
Clinton took aim at opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders’ call for free college tuition, saying that his program would have tax payers sending the wealthy to school for free.
The cheering crowd fell silent as Clinton spoke about gun violence and her stance on gun control while recalling the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“We can’t let this go on,” she said.
There was no direct mention of Republican front-runner Donald Trump in Clinton’s speech, but she did advise voters to stand up against the “divisive rhetoric that is pitting American’s against each other” and urged them to reject the bigotry and bullying that exists in the current political system.
It appeared that Clinton, who has a sizable lead over Sanders in North Carolina, was in friendly territory Monday night.
“Anybody with that much fight in them, that even though they get knocked down, they get right back up, you can’t help but see a winner in her,” said supporter Ernestine Crawford.
“Part of it has to do with her being the first female president, but I also feel she is most qualified for the job and she has more experience than anyone who has run for president,” said supporter Jacob Graham.
Brandon Roffis, who attended both Sanders' and Clinton's rallies Monday said he was still on the fence about who he would vote for Tuesday.
"Bernie was great, don't get me wrong, but he was a lot of hype and one-liners and applause lines whereas Hillary had some substance to her when she talked about what she wanted to do and how," he said.
Supporters 'feel the Bern' in Charlotte
Sanders energized a packed house Monday afternoon at PNC Music Pavilion in Charlotte, where some people waited in line for more than eight hours to get into the rally, with a populist message that attacked both Republicans and Clinton.
"A nation is judged by how it treats the weakest and most vulnerable among us," he said amid chants of "Bernie, Bernie, Bernie."
Sanders blasted "billionaires buying elections" and a "rigged economy" in which taxpayers pay for Medicaid and food stamps for many Walmart workers because the company's owners – among some of the wealthiest people in America – don't pay a living wage. He also called for free tuition at public universities to boost education and free young adults from crushing student debt, equal pay for women and expanding Social Security benefits.
He criticized Clinton for voting to go to war in Iraq, adding, "I'm going to do everything in my power to keep our brave men and women out of perpetual warfare."
Some of the loudest cheers came for his support of paid family leave, gay marriage and a path to citizenship for people in the U.S. illegally.
"We will not accept for one second their bigotry and xenophobia," he said of Trump's campaign, which frequently targets Latinos and Muslims as sources of problems in the U.S.
"Bernie speaks to our family. He speaks to what we care about. He speaks to equality for all people," supporter Elisabeth Clements said.
"Some say he is a single-issue candidate. He is, it's justice, whether it be immigration justice, civil rights justice, equality justice," supporter Chris Bray said. "He's the purest kind of candidate."
"I like the fact that he is really thinking about the future leaders – the college students – as well as our parents and the vets. He's just really wanting to help everybody," supporter Veronica Guillen said.
Trump won't face criminal charge
Earlier Monday, Trump's rally at Lenoir-Rhyne University was delayed for two hours because fog prevented his plane from landing in Hickory. Instead, he had to land in Charlotte and drive to the rally, and he showed up shortly before noon with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a former opponent who now backs Trump's candidacy.
Trump hit his usual talking points promising to restore American jobs, crack down on immigration, build up U.S. armed forces and craft trade deals that benefit the country. He also engaged in the trash talking that has become a hallmark of his rallies, belittling Republican rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio as "lyin' Ted" and "little Marco" and disparaging Clinton and Sanders as well.
"Clinton doesn't have the strength or the energy to be president," he said. "Bernie's going nowhere."
Last week, Trump visited Concord and Fayetteville in rallies that attracted thousands of attendees. During the rally in Fayetteville, a protester was assaulted as he was escorted from Crown Coliseum by deputies. A Linden man was later charged in the incident, and Cumberland County Sheriff's Office investigators said Monday that they decided against filing a charge of inciting a riot against Trump after reviewing video evidence in the case.
Trump on Monday denied suggestions that he incites or even condones violence at his rallies, calling the events "love fests."
"We're not angry people. We're good people," he said of his supporters. "We're just tired of a government that is run incompetently.
"This country is in serious, serious trouble," he said later during the rally. "Our people want to see something great happen."
The protests weren't as vocal Monday, and Trump supporters quickly drowned out demonstrators with shouts of "USA, USA" and "Trump, Trump, Trump."
"As soon as he said 'I'm going to build a wall,' I stood up and held up my sign and said we're not for exclusion, and I was escorted out," protester Marcus Slade said.
Outside the venue, the debate between protestors and Trump supporters got heated at times. One woman was kicked out and crossed the security barrier again before an officer took her down.
"I wish more would come," said Debbi Johnson of High Point. "You know why? Because every time they do, his poll numbers go up."