- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 5, 2016

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Deborah Ross and Roy Cooper, two Democrats seeking to unseat Republican incumbents in November, used their appearances ahead of President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to fire up voters at a rally here Tuesday.

Halfway across the state in Raleigh, Donald Trump held his own event in this battleground state before more than 2,200 people.

Ross, who is running against GOP Sen. Richard Burr, energized a crowd of thousands at the Charlotte Convention Center by pointing out the state’s prominence in the race for the White House.

“North Carolina is on the map and we are going to be blue in November,” Ross said. “We are going to keep the White House. We are going to take back the Governor’s Mansion and we’re going to take back the U.S. Senate, starting right here.”

Cooper faces Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.

“This may be the most important election in our lifetime,” Cooper said. “And North Carolina is ground zero. Why else would our president and our next president use our state to campaign together for the first time?”

McCroy didn’t attend the Trump rally. A spokesman said the governor had a previously scheduled trip out of state. McCrory has said he will back Trump.

At the Democrats rally, contenders in the down-ballot races also used the Obama-Clinton appearance as a show of party unity.

Rep. Alma Adams warmed up the crowd by reminding them that she and her Democratic colleagues in Washington held a sit-in to protest the lack of movement toward gun safety legislation after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando.

Adams also talked about efforts to raise the minimum wage and calls for McCrory to repeal House Bill 2, which in part limits LGBT access to public restrooms.

“However, we’re not going to win these battles if Congress is sending bills to a President Trump,” Adams said. “He’s like the rooster who thinks that the sun comes up just to hear him crow.”

Mark Henriques, a Charlotte attorney, sported a T-shirt that said “Madam President: Get Used to It.”

“It’s time for a change in North Carolina,” Henriques said. “I’m disappointed with the governor here, and HB2 and the general course of action, so I think it’s time. I’m hoping for change at the state level as well as a continuation of where we are with the president on the national level.”

Trump’s rally came just hours after Obama’s FBI director blasted Clinton’s handling of classified material. The audience roared at Trump’s digs at Clinton and cheered his vows to bring jobs to the state and increase support services for veterans.

At the very back of the performance hall, 16-year-old Reese Fanjoy of Raleigh sat matching six of his friends in white Trump T-shirts. Fanjoy said he thinks candidates are drawn to the state because North Carolina’s millennial voters are becoming aware their future leaders will affect policy surrounding the state’s new LGBT law.

“North Carolina is the most active state politically right now,” Fanjoy said. “Voters are unstable because they’re confused about the new bathroom laws.”

John Williams, a Marine veteran from Jacksonville, said the strong support shows distaste for a Clinton presidency he fears would be shrouded in foreign policy secrecy.

“If that woman gets in office, kiss your dreams goodbye,” Williams said.

Authorities say they peacefully escorted two protesters from the auditorium. A few dozen protesters gathered across the street from the venue after the event voicing opposition to Trump’s immigration policies.

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