Less than week after Donald Trump carried nearly every county in her district during the Republican presidential primary, U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., met with the billionaire businessman and said she is supporting the party’s front-runner in his bid for the presidency.
She’s the first woman in Congress to endorse Trump for president.
Ellmers, from Dunn, N.C., and other Republican lawmakers had lunch with Trump for more than an hour on Monday afternoon in Washington, D.C. After the meeting, she told McClatchy she was moved by Trump’s performance in last week’s North Carolina GOP primary.
Monday’s meeting in the nation’s capital came as Trump seeks to win over some party leaders who have so far not endorsed anyone in the presidential race but who have said they will support whoever becomes the GOP nominee.
“I wasn’t there first either – I wasn’t sure (initially) what to think of him as a candidate,” Ellmers said of Trump, who also spoke in Washington on Monday to AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
But, she says she believes she and Trump have something in common: an appeal to voters who want to elect political outsiders. Ellmers ran as a tea party Republican candidate in 2010 when she was first elected.
“I know exactly how he’s feeling, and I understand totally the way he’s being treated,” she said, adding that many lawmakers in Washington aren’t accepting of outsider candidates or those not established in politics.
“I wasn’t part of the usual path that most elected officials take. ... That’s what I see in Donald Trump,” Ellmers said. Voters, she added, aren’t looking for “politically correct” or perfect and polished politicians this year.
Monday’s meeting with Trump and a few other GOP members of Congress was positive, Ellmers said.
The meeting, she said, included confidential talks about the presidential race and political issues. She declined to offer specifics about the conversation.
Ellmers voted for Trump in last Tuesday’s North Carolina primary, she said, doing so after hearing from voters about their support for him.
“That was really the reason I ended up voting for him myself. ... I listened to what they were saying,” she said.
Trump’s Washington visit may help others in her party publicly support him, Ellmers said.
“I do believe that Mr. Trump is turning the corner,” she said, adding that a contested convention would be a mistake for Republicans.
Voters “would feel that their vote and their support has been completely disregarded.”
Ellmers is currently seeking a fourth term in Congress. She faces multiple primary challengers – including from U.S. Rep. George Holding, who is currently representing the 13th Congressional District. Holding plans to run against Ellmers in the 2nd. A legal challenge of North Carolina’s gerrymandered districts led to redistricting last month and Holding’s 13th was moved to another part of the state.
With her own election to focus on this year, Ellmers said she’s not sure she’ll hit the campaign trail with Trump but said she wants to support him however she can.
Whether North Carolina voters in Ellmers’ district will take her endorsement of Trump into consideration when casting votes for Congress is yet unknown, she said.
“I have certainly gotten a positive response from people back home, so I’m certainly expecting that,” she said, adding that she’s never endorsed in a presidential race so she isn’t sure what the impact could be.
“I guess I’ll have to see how this plays out,” she said. “I’ve never done this before. I have no way of gauging.”