President Donald J. Trump urged his eastern North Carolina supporters to set aside their applause and cheers and cast their ballots during the early-voting period.

“This is the most important election of our lives, maybe in the history of our country so get your friends, get your family, get your neighbors and get out and vote,” Trump said.

Using Air Force One as a backdrop, the president rallied about 5,000 supporters at the Pitt-Greenville Airport on Thursday, which was the first day of the early-voting period. It was his fifth appearance in the state in the last six weeks.

“This is Trump Country, and everybody is really excited to see the boss,” said Michael Whatley, chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party. “There’s no place like eastern North Carolina, and we wanted to make sure President Trump came in here and got everybody riled up on the first day of early voting.”

“Citizens like you helped build this country and together we are taking back our country,” Trump said. “We are returning power to you, the American people, and we are returning it faster than anyone possible.”

The president touched on a wide range of topics during an 80-minute speech, including the economy, his efforts to bring peace to the Middle East and his coronavirus response.

The bulk of his talk focused on what he said was Joe Biden’s inability to help the American economy during his nearly 50-year career in the U.S. Senate and as vice president.

He also repeatedly referenced the radicalization of the Democrat Party.

When discussing COVID-19, The president said he was working to make the antibody treatment he received widely available and free of charge to citizens. He also promised that 100 million doses of vaccine will be available by year’s end.

“Hey North Carolina, tell your governor to open up your state,” Trump said. “On Nov. 4 we are opening up North Carolina. ... You’ve got to open up. The kids want to be back in school.”

The president left Greenville and flew to Miami where he was scheduled to participate in a town hall event being aired on NBC.

Thursday was supposed to be the second of three televised debates between the president and Biden but it was canceled when the president wouldn’t participate in a virtual session that organizers wanted because of his COVID-19 diagnoses earlier this month.

Thursday was the two-week mark since the president announced he and his wife contracted the virus. Doctors cleared him for travel earlier this week.

A large portion of Thursday’s crowd didn’t wear masks in the tightly-packed audience area on the Pitt-Greenville Airport tarmac.

It didn’t bother audience members who were wearing masks.

“Wearing a mask is a personal choice. God gave us choices from day one,” said Sonya Blizzard-Smith, a farmer from Pink Hill,

“I’m more concerned right now with corruption in the government right now. That’s a bigger issue,” said Thomas Alcock of Greenville. Alcock was referencing a New York Post story about emails that reportedly show Biden’s son Hunter helped a Ukrainian executive meet his father when he was vice president.

A congressional committee concluded last month that there was no evidence of wrongdoing in Hunter Biden’s work for a Ukrainian energy company.

The president referenced the Post’s report and the fact that Facebook and Twitter took steps to limit sharing the story on their sites. Trump said he would revoke a section of Federal Communications Commission rules that prevents social media sites from being held responsible for what is posted on their sites.


Thursday’s rally is the president’s third visit to Greenville since the 2016 campaign.

Alcock said he has attended other rallies but never got as close to the president as he did on Thursday.

Jonas Williams of Greensboro has sold Trump T-shirts, hats and placards since the president “came down the escalator.”

Williams was among a half-dozen black vendors plying their wares at the Pitt County Fairgrounds, where attendees parked. He said the president has been a boon to his business.

“I was always selling paraphernalia. I would go to sports events. But Trump has took it to another level,” Williams said. “The enthusiasm from the people, sales are just off the chain. It’s been a boon to my economy.”

People accuse the president and his supporters of being racists, but he finds them to be “a bunch of good ol’ American people.”

Chris Hobbs of Clinton brought his daughters Madelyn and Molly.

“We appreciate what he has done for our country. Been very focused on the economy and helped us.”

Attending the rally will be a good life lesson for his daughters, Hobbs said.

Hobbs grows grain and sweet potatoes along with raising poultry and hogs.

When China stopped buying grains in retaliation for tariffs the president placed on the country, Hobbs said it was an economic hardship, but a necessary one.

“It was going to be an ongoing pain. What was done with China was a temporary pain,” he said. “It had to be done.”

And it paid off, he said.

“In the last few weeks there have been historic orders for grains. I store grains and it’s been very beneficial for me and family,” Hobbs said.

More importantly, the president acknowledged the economic hardship created by the tariffs and provided a $28 billion farm relief package that cushioned the losses, Hobbs said.

The president ended his speech with a pledge.

“We are going to keep on working, we are going to keep on fighting and we are going to keep on winning, winning, winning,” Trump said.

“We are one people, one family, one glorious nation under God,” he said. “With the incredible people of North Carolina we have made America wealthy again, we have made America strong again, we have made America proud again. And we will make America safe again and we will make America great again.”

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.