- Associated Press - Saturday, May 7, 2016

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) - Top North Carolina elected leaders urged fellow Republicans gathering Saturday at their state convention to unify following a contentious presidential primary and the recent removal of the state party’s chairman.

Addressing well over 1,000 GOP activists gathering in Greensboro, U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis focused their remarks on preventing Democrat Hillary Clinton from becoming president while urging support for the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. Neither spent much time focused on the attributes of Trump, who has run an unorthodox campaign and whose off-the-cuff statements have offended at times.

Burr, who is seeking a third Senate term in November and would benefit from energized GOP get-out-the-vote efforts, told the crowd it has been the “weirdest election cycle I’ve ever seen.” But he said people backing Ted Cruz and other presidential candidates now need to stand down.

“There’s a point in time where having our preference is no longer an option and getting behind a candidate is absolutely essential,” Burr said to applause. “We’re there. It’s time It’s time for us to elect a Republican president.” He said a Republican president is needed to enact a conservative agenda that has been blocked by President Barack Obama and to prevent Clinton from nominating up to three people to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Why on earth would we want to do anything else but make sure that Hillary Clinton never goes to the White House?” asked Tillis, who had endorsed Marco Rubio for president. He accused any Republican “who doesn’t support the Republican nominee and either stays home or casts a vote for Hillary Clinton is a RINO” - a Republican In Name Only.

U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, a favorite of tea party Republicans, also pushed a unity message in an afternoon address. Gov. Pat McCrory, who faces a tough re-election battle with Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper, focused on his rival instead while accepting the nomination he won in the March 15 primary. He accused Cooper of failing to do his job defending the state against several Obama administration policies.

“We haven’t had an attorney general in North Carolina in several years,” McCrory said. “I’m running against a very liberal full-time politician.”

McCrory made no mention of Trump, who won North Carolina’s March primary with 40 percent of the vote, defeating Cruz by 40,000 votes. The state’s delegates to the national convention are distributed based on what percentage of the statewide vote they received, rather than giving all 72 delegates to Trump, who was pledged 29.

The 1,040 convention delegates chose the names of 30 of those national convention delegates late Saturday with little opposition. A big fight had been expected until Cruz and John Kasich suspended their campaigns after Trump won the Indiana primary last week. While North Carolina’s national delegation must vote in Cleveland according to the primary results on the first ballot, plenty of jockeying had been expected because delegates would be “unbound” on a second ballot and could vote how they choose.

A second ballot now won’t be necessary. In any case, Cruz backers had won 85 percent of North Carolina’s 39 delegates chosen at the regional level. In the end, Cruz supporters overall got 38 slots to go to Cleveland as part of an announced compromise with Trump.

Still, parliamentary bickering Saturday morning over a special committee’s slate for those proposed delegates underscored the strong feelings that existed.

“The Trump people have definitely decided they’re Trump, everybody else is wrong, get out of my way … and that’s not unity,” said convention delegate Liz Berg of Jacksonville, a Cruz supporter. “Unity in my opinion, is hearing everyone.”

George Little of Pinehurst, a Trump supporter, said the party’s “going through some growing pains” but added the New York businessman is preaching an effective message of making the country No. 1 globally and creating jobs. “He brings a different perspective to it. He’s brought a lot of people who want to Make America Great Again.”

Emotions also remain front and center between tea party activists and members of the party’s establishment wing a week after the GOP’s executive committee voted to remove Chairman Hasan Harnett from his job after party leaders accused him of a power grab and trying to break the state party’s computer system. Harnett’s replacement, former U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes, is trying to mend fences with tea party activists who elected Harnett last June.

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