Presidential candidate Joe Biden made a brief visit to North Carolina on Sunday afternoon, 16 days before Election Day.
The former vice president gave a speech outside Riverside High School in Durham just before 2 p.m. His supporters were asked to stay in their vehicles to practice social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the parking lot, visitors sat in their vehicles — decorated with balloons, campaign signs and American flags — and watched Biden on big screens as he spoke from a stage on the side of the school. People honked their horns to show support to the candidate.
In a speech lasting less than 20 minutes, Biden emphasized the importance of voting.
“The very soul of our nation is at stake,” Biden said. “It’s go time. This is the most important election of our lifetime.”
Biden spent his speech criticizing the current president, making promises about what he would do differently and asking for voters’ support.
The Trump Victory campaign put out a statement criticizing Biden for his “last-minute” visit to the swing state. Trump and his campaign have been a frequent presence in the state, while Biden has personally made only a few visits. On Tuesday, the husband of Biden’s running mate Sen. Kamala Harris will make appearances in Wilmington and Greenville.
“With more than nine million direct voter contacts in North Carolina alone, Trump Victory’s permanent, data-driven ground game cannot be matched by Joe Biden’s anemic efforts in the Tar Heel State,” said Trump Victory spokesman Gates McGavick.
In his speech in Durham, Biden noted the increases in reported cases of coronavirus on Thursday and Friday, and criticized President Trump for downplaying the status of coronavirus. “My grandfather would say, this guy’s gone around the bend if he thinks we’ve turned the corner,” he said, while car horns in the parking lot blared in support.
While COVID-19 cases dropped on Saturday, the state’s health department reported an increase on Sunday.
“The president has known how bad this virus would be since January and he hid it from you,” Biden said. “His excuse is that he didn’t want Americans to panic. Americans don’t panic. Donald Trump panics.”
Biden also criticized Trump and other Republicans for trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, known also as Obamacare, which President Barack Obama championed when Biden served as vice president. Biden said he would not only continue the program but build upon it.
Biden also emphasized the importance of Medicaid expansion during the COVID-19 expansion. “Look, your governor has been working hard to expand Medicaid but its been blocked by the Republican legislature,” Biden said.
Gov. Roy Cooper and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Service Secretary Mandy Cohen supported Medicaid expansion in the wake of the pandemic during North Carolina’s short legislative session. But Democratic lawmakers couldn’t reach an agreement with Republicans and accused the GOP of denying the expansion because it would show support of the Affordable Care Act.
Another key topic in the presidential campaign has been the Black Lives Matter movement and white supremacy. At Sunday’s speech, Biden criticized Trump for failing to denounce white supremacy and for not standing up for Black Americans.
“We need leadership who deescalates tension,” Biden said. The rest of his sentence was drowned out by honking and cheers.
Biden pledged to support all Americans if he is elected president. “I will work just as hard for those who didn’t support me as those that did,” Biden said. “That’s the job of a president.”
Before Biden left the stage, he put on a pair of sunglasses and turned to wave at the crowd — Democratic candidates and congressmen to his left; supporters, including two little girls sitting on the roof of their car with a “1st-graders for Biden” sign, were on his right.
Supporters who couldn’t get into the event lined the streets outside the high school. They gathered with children and dogs and held signs supporting Biden.
His last appearance in the state was at an event in Charlotte on Sept. 23. Biden has a lead of a few percentage points over President Donald Trump in North Carolina; Biden’s lead is wider in national polls.