Republican frontrunner Donald Trump promised security and prosperity to a crowd that packed Dorton Arena Friday night for his first public appearance in North Carolina as a presidential candidate.
In a wide-ranging speech and question-and-answer session, Trump promised to build the military, help veterans, stop China, Japan and Mexico from “ripping us off” and “handle” terrorism.
“We would handle it so tough, you would have no idea,” he said.
The boisterous crowd of more than 8,000 cheered his familiar lines and laughed as he ridiculed GOP primary candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
Safety was on Trump supporters’ minds Friday night, with the rally coming in the shadow of the San Bernardino massacre. Two people asked him about keeping the country safe.
But Trump did not address the shootings until asked about the attack.
Trump promised to preserve the Second Amendment and suggested that the results of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks would have been different if victims had been armed.
“You wouldn’t have dead people,” he said. “The dead people would be the other guys.”
Trump repeated his promise to build a wall to stop illegal immigration, and said he would not accept Syrian refugees.
Those refugees already here would have to leave if he’s elected, Trump said.
Instead, he wants a “safe zone” in Syria.
“I do like building in a safe zone, someplace in Syria. We’ll contribute, and we’ll help because we want to help people. But we don’t want these people coming to the United States. If they do, and I win, they’re going back.”
Protesters interrupted the rally seven times. They were showered with boos as they were led from the West Raleigh arena.
Trump supporters before his appearance said he is the candidate to solve America’s problems.
Jonathan V. Schneider, 33, said he’s been a fan of the billionaire real estate mogul since his years on the reality show The Apprentice. And he said he trusts Trump with foreign policy.
“I think he’ll take care of ISIS,” Schneider said.
Terry Benhoff of Selma said Trump reminds her a bit of Ronald Reagan. Trump will put America’s interests before those of other nations, she said.
“We need someone with guts, not someone who’s afraid of being politically correct,” she said. “We need somebody who’s going to protect us. I think Trump will do that. “
As people waited in line to see Trump, they chanted “Build a wall.”
Jamie Doom, 41, stood with a handful of protesters on a corner outside the fairgrounds.
They held signs saying “No to racism No to Trump” and “Will trade Fascists for refugees.”
Doom said it was important to demonstrate opposition to “demagoguery, racism, Islamophobia and inflammatory rhetoric.”
Trump has “definitely dialed into people’s fears,” Doom said. But “he blames people who are not the problem.”
Trump has held enjoyed a months-longs lead in state and national polls over the crowd of other GOP hopefuls vying for the presidential nomination. A national Quinnipiac University poll taken Nov. 23-30 and released Wednesday put Trump’s support at 27 percent, 10 percentage points ahead of the second place Rubio.
The most recent North Carolina polls, both taken more than a month ago, produced conflicting results. A poll by left-leaning Public Policy Polling, taken Oct. 23-25, put Trump’s support at 31 percent with Republican primary voters, with Ben Carson in second place at 23 percent. The poll had a margin of error of 4.8 percentage points.
An Elon University poll of Republican or Republican-leaning voters taken between Oct. 29 and Nov. 2 had Carson leading with 31 percent and Trump at 19 percent. The poll had a margin of error of 4.54 percentage points.
Carson’s position has dropped in other state and national polls in the last month.