Eric Trump, son of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, arrived for a tour of Benson’s Main Street without much fanfare and without a tie, his shirt collar unbuttoned.
There, he told small-business owners that his father would be their ally and would make life better for them.
“We’re going to put small businesses first again because they haven’t been put first in a long time,” the younger Trump said. “We’re going to put hard-working Americans first again because hard-working Americans haven’t been put first in a very, very long time.”
His message resonated with the more than 100 people gathered on Main Street, some in their shops, others on the sidewalks, some hanging out of car windows for a glimpse or to wave to Trump and his wife, Lara.
Lara, a Wilmington native who attended N.C. State University, said she wouldn’t be supporting her father-in-law if she didn’t believe he would help her home state.
“Whenever my father-in-law decided he was going to run, I told him to send me back here because this is my home turf, these are my people, I know they’ll vote for you,” she said. “Everywhere that we’ve been, there’s been such overwhelming support and love.”
Inside The Royal Boutique on Main Street, the Trumps praised local business owners for their struggles in an unfriendly economy and told them those hardships would end if Donald Trump were elected.
“It’s so nice to see a local business succeed because … it’s not a narrative we often hear,” Lara Trump said. “I know it’s been tough. I hear so many stories about how many businesses close every year … We have to change that. That’s not who America is. We’re a country that’s supposed to be the best in the world, and we’re not.”
Lara Trump said that’s what inspired Donald Trump to run for president.
“Whenever my father-in-law would turn on the television, open the newspaper every day, he saw what we all saw, which is all of these things happening to a country that had given him everything, and he really wanted to make a change and make a difference,” she said.
Eric Trump said the country was in dire straits and needed his father to turn that around.
“As a country, we’re going to start winning again; we’re not winning at anything we do,” Trump said, pointing to education, government debt, stagnant median incomes, lost jobs, increasing costs of utilities and health care and rising taxes.
The couple stopped every few steps to take selfies and shake hands with grinning supporters decked out in “Make America Great Again” T-shirts and ball caps. They held babies and gave hugs. One woman even landed a smooch on Eric Trump’s cheek.
“I wear it every day,” one man said when Eric Trump asked him about his red baseball cap emblazoned with Donald Trump’s slogan. “I just want you to know how much I support your dad.”
The Trumps attended events in Raleigh and Benson before heading to Harnett County and Southern Pines.
“Just walking down this Main Street and seeing all the love, I don’t think I need to sell it,” Eric Trump said.
At El Charro Mexican Restaurant on Wall Street in Benson, the Trumps and their entourage stopped for lunch where Lara Trump ordered an unsweetened tea for herself and a Diet Pepsi for Eric while he talked about America’s problems and how his father would fix them.
When asked why Benson and Johnston County should give their votes to his father, Eric Trump said a Donald Trump presidency would benefit every town and county across the country.
“We need to start making good deals,” he said. “We have to stop getting ripped off as a nation. We have to start allowing businesses like this to succeed; let people make a good living, let them employ others so they can make great livings so they can support their families. That’s what it’s all about, and our politicians in Washington aren’t doing that.”
If voters want the status quo, Eric Trump said they can vote for Hillary Clinton. But if they want change – lower taxes, more jobs – they need to vote for Donald Trump.
“American people deserve a lot better,” he said. “All these communities have been so left behind.”
As a North Carolina native, Lara Trump told Benson that she couldn’t be part of a family or speak on behalf of a man she didn’t believe in.
“We really have one last shot to get our country back on track, and Donald Trump is the man to do it,” she said. “This is a man with a great heart who wants the best for our country. He has had the opportunity to achieve the American dream, and he wants everyone to have that opportunity.”
The couple encouraged people to vote early and to have faith in Donald Trump.
“We’re going to make America strong again,” Eric Trump said. “We’re going to make America safe again. We’re going to make America great again. We promise we’re going to make you guys really happy.”
Abbie Bennett: 910-849-2827; @AbbieRBennett