Trump stood before an iconic World War II-era battleship to declare the port city of Wilmington a World War II “Heritage City.” He pointed to a bolt of lightning and said it was God saluting the event.
He honored war veterans, including 97-year-old Hershel “Woody” Williams, the sole surviving Marine from the war to receive the Medal of Honor. The West Virginia native fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima in the Pacific.
“He’s 100 percent sharp,” Trump said of Williams, who traveled to the key political battleground state with the president aboard Air Force One.
The White House denied the North Carolina trip was political in nature. Battleground states are hotly contested because their population can swing either to Republicans or Democrats and play a decisive role in presidential elections.
Trump won North Carolina by 3.6 percentage points in 2016, and polls are showing another extremely close race taking shape in a state that generates 15 electoral votes for its winner.
Vice President Mike Pence will follow the president by visiting Raleigh on Thursday.
Through Sept. 1, more than 591,000 absentee ballot requests had been received, compared with approximately 36,500 through the same period in 2016, the state elections board said Wednesday.
More than half of the ballots, or approximately 313,000, have been requested by Democrats. Republicans have requested more than 93,000 and registered unaffiliated voters account for approximately 183,000 ballot requests.
Biden released a statement in advance of Trump’s trip saying that the president has not provided North Carolina with the roadmap and resources needed to protect businesses, schools, and families from the coronavirus.
“Instead of honoring the sacrifice of our front-line heroes, President Trump has repeatedly ignored public health guidance for political purposes,” Biden said.
Wilmington has been home to the Battleship North Carolina since 1962. The ship is now a floating museum. On Sept. 2, 1945, Japan’s formal surrender took place aboard the U.S.S. Missouri, anchored in Tokyo Bay.
Congress passed a bill earlier this year that included a provision requiring the secretary of the interior to annually designate one city in the United States as an “American World War II Heritage City.” Wilmington is the first city to get that designation.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.