- Associated Press - Monday, October 31, 2016

SANFORD, N.C. (AP) - A final push for the battleground of North Carolina kicked off Monday when Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine visited conservative-leaning counties ahead of stops later in the week by the president and vice president. Republican nominee Donald Trump also planned to visit in the coming days.

“You guys are a checkmate state. You’re an absolute checkmate state,” Kaine told several hundred people in Sanford. “If Hillary wins here, she will be president, period. … There is no path for Donald Trump to be president without North Carolina’s electoral votes.”

Trump plans appearances in Concord and Selma later this week, while President Barack Obama will campaign for Clinton in the state Wednesday and Friday. Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit Tuesday.

The appearances are aimed at turning out supporters in a state where almost a quarter of registered voters - or nearly 1.7 million people - had cast early ballots through Sunday.

Kaine didn’t refer directly to the revelation that the FBI was reviewing newly discovered emails that could be related to Clinton’s use of a private server, but he did tell the crowd: “This has been a season of surprises.”

He also sought to stoke fears about Trump’s views on nuclear weapons as the Clinton campaign rolls out a new television ad highlighting Trump statements that fall outside existing U.S. nuclear strategy.

“Donald Trump has a bizarre and unusual idea that the world would be a better place if more nations had nuclear weapons,” he said.

Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kara Carter countered with a statement bemoaning Clinton’s “scandal-plagued candidacy,” adding that “there’s nothing Tim Kaine can say to trick North Carolina voters into believing Hillary Clinton can be trusted with the White House.”

Kaine’s Monday afternoon stop was in a county that voted Republican in the past two presidential elections but has one of the highest concentrations of Hispanic or Latino residents at about 20 percent. However, Hispanic voters make up only about 5 percent of the county’s registered voters.

The biggest employers in the county of 60,000 include manufacturers and food-processing plants.

Earlier in the day, Kaine held an event to the east in Onslow County near where his son is stationed at the U.S. Marine base Camp Lejeune. The county went for GOP candidates in the past two presidential elections, and registered Republican voters there outnumber Democrats.

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Follow Jonathan Drew at www.twitter.com/jonldrew


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