CHARLOTTE — Donald Trump on Wednesday pledged what he called a “new deal for black America” as he attempted to make late inroads with a voting bloc that polling shows favors Democrat Hillary Clinton by a vast margin.
“I will be your greatest champion,” Trump said during an campaign rally here. “I will never ever take the African American community for granted. Never, ever.”
In a scripted speech heavy on policy specifics, the Republican presidential nominee laid out a plan that he said is built on setting up better schools, lowering crime in inner cities and creating more high-paying jobs.
He told the largely white audience that “massive numbers” of black Americans have been ignored and left behind, and he blamed Democrats and Clinton for the “crippling crime and total violence” in the nation’s inner cities.
Trump was speaking in a city that was rocked by protests last month after police killed an unarmed black man. In his speech, he accused Clinton of waging a “war on police” that he said puts black lives at risk, and he called for police and residents to work together.
The GOP nominee pledged to remove gang members from inner cities and continued to falsely assert that the national murder rate is the highest it has been in 45 years.
“Some of our inner cities are more dangerous than the war zones we’re reading about and seeing about every night,” Trump said.
The real estate mogul said he wants to allow cities and states to declare disaster areas in blighted communities and give microloans to black entrepreneurs to help spur jobs. He championed school choice, which he called the “great civil rights issue of our time,” and increased funding for historically black colleges and universities.
He proposed tax holidays for inner-city investment and incentives for foreign companies to invest in “blighted American neighborhoods,” though Trump did not say what they were.
Trump later campaigned in Kinston, N.C., rallying an overwhelmingly white audience in a city that is about 68 percent black.
Trump’s candidacy is barely registering with African American voters. He had 3 percent support among African Americans in an ABC News tracking poll released Sunday, compared with Clinton’s 82 percent. Romney had 6 percent support among African Americans in 2012.
Toward the end of his speech, Trump also took a shot at a long-vanquished Republican rival as he slammed Clinton.
“She has less energy than Jeb Bush,” Trump said, saying he had brought up Bush because he didn’t live up to his pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee.
During the primary, Trump had disparagingly called Bush “low energy.” A Bush spokeswoman said Trump continues to be fixated on the former Florida governor.
“Donald Trump’s unending obsession with Governor Bush is very sad. Donald Trump should be focused on his current race — he certainly needs all the help he can get,” Kristy Campbell said in an email.
Earlier in the day, Trump made a detour to Washington to officially christen a downtown hotel bearing his name, even as his campaign sets its sights on Florida as its make-or-break battleground state less than two weeks before Election Day.
Aides insisted it was a non-campaign event, but when Trump took the stage, he railed against bloated military hospital construction projects, blasted Obamacare price spikes and congratulated former House speaker Newt Gingrich for sparring Tuesday night with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly in a contentious prime-time interview.
“That was an amazing interview,” Trump said as he pointed at Gingrich, sitting in the front of the room. “We don’t play games, Newt, right? We don’t play games.”
Gingrich and Kelly had tussled over whether news coverage of sexual assault allegations against Trump compares fairly with stories about the ongoing release of hacked emails from top aides to Clinton.
Clinton marked her 69th birthday by making campaign stops in Florida. Her campaign also released two new television commercials it described as “closing arguments” to viewers in several battleground states.
Speaking to reporters aboard her campaign plane, where staffers surprised her with a chocolate birthday cake, Clinton expressed worry about creeping complacency among Democratic voters.
“We’re not taking anything for granted,” she said. “I feel good, but I am really determined that nobody is going to rest or stop or in any way think this election is over before it’s actually over.”
The Democratic nominee said Trump is “paying more attention to his business than to the campaign” by stopping at his Washington hotel.
Trump stood on a ballroom stage alongside three of his children at what was billed as the official grand opening of Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, just blocks from the White House. Trump’s co-mingling of his business interests and presidential aspirations were on clear display in and around the glitzy ballroom where he spoke.
It was one of many instances in which he has simultaneously promoted his business and political interests. The last time Trump held a major public event at his hotel in the District was last month, when he acknowledged for the first time that President Obama was born in the United States.
He has also met privately there with hotel employees and used it for interviews and meetings with his foreign policy team.
On Tuesday, Trump staged a photo op with employees of his Trump National Doral golf resort near Miami and sought to speak about both campaign themes and his company. He raised money at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach on Monday.
Over the summer, after he effectively clinched the GOP nomination, Trump flew to Scotland to promote his golf courses there. He announced his campaign last year in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York. He even put Trump-branded products on display at an event in March.
Trump’s reference to Gingrich’s Fox interview came after one of his top campaign aides made an apparent threat against Kelly via Twitter on Tuesday night.
Dan Scavino tweeted that Kelly “made a total fool out of herself tonight — attacking @realDonaldTrump. Watch what happens to her after this election is over.”
When Gingrich raised objections in the interview to the level of coverage of the hacking of Clinton campaign emails, Kelly shot back: “That is worth covering. And we did.”
Gingrich persisted: “I mean, you want to go back through the tapes of your show recently. You are fascinated with sex, and you don’t care about public policy.”
Gingrich dismissed the allegations against Trump during the interview but repeatedly referred to former president Bill Clinton as a “sexual predator” — citing allegations by several women against the 42nd president dating to the 1970s. Gingrich led Republican congressional investigations of Bill Clinton in the 1990s that resulted in his impeachment. But the Clinton inquests also brought subsequent GOP congressional losses that forced Gingrich to step down as speaker.
Trump said again on Wednesday that he will put $100 million of his own money in the campaign, adding that he is willing “to spend much more than that.”
“I’ll have over $100 million in the campaign,” he told CNN. “Hillary Clinton has nothing in the campaign. She’s all special interests and donors, and they give her the money and then she will do whatever they tell her to do. But I will have over $100 million in the campaign, and I am prepared to go much more than that.”
However, the real estate mogul has put only $56 million in so far, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
Campaigning in Lake Worth, Fla., Clinton acknowledged the opening of Trump’s new hotel by noting that she was traveling Wednesday with José Andrés, the Washington-based celebrity chef who backed out of plans to build a restaurant at the site.
“While the hotel may be new, it’s the same old story,” Clinton told supporters. “He relied on undocumented workers to make his project cheaper. Most of the products in the rooms were made overseas, and he even sued to get his taxes lowered. We know he’s used undocumented workers. And that’s one of the things he’s run his campaign on, about deporting undocumented workers.”
At his rally in Kinston, Trump denied that he used undocumented workers to help build the hotel.
“I didn’t hire one illegal immigrant to build Trump International hotel,” he said.
Last year, some workers on the project quietly acknowledged to The Washington Post that they are in the country illegally.
Abby Phillip in Lake Worth and Scott Clement, Matea Gold, Jonathan O’Connell and Elise Viebeck in Washington contributed to this report.