The Pitt-Greenville Airport will witness the arrival of Air Force 1 on Thursday, Oct. 15 at 1 p.m. as President Donald Trump makes a campaign stop in eastern North Carolina in which an outdoor Make America Great Again Rally will take place located at 400 Airport Rd.
Doors for the event will open at 10 a.m. and those who would like to attend must register online on Trump’s official campaign website. Two tickets will be given out per phone number signed-up for the event. Through event registration, individuals must understand and acknowledge that there is a potential risk of COVID-19 exposure at public events where people are present, according to the website.
Pitt-Greenville Airport Executive Director Bill Hopper said the airport was notified on Oct. 9 of plans for the rally by a representative of Trump’s campaign. As of Oct. 12, the final cost for the Trump campaign’s rental of the airport had not yet been determined.
“It’s (the rally) going to be on an aircraft parking apron that’s just to the north of the terminal building,” Hopper said.
Air Force 1 is expected to land around 1 p.m., and the airport has planned a five hour window of time for the rally, Hopper said.
City of Greenville Public Information Officer Brock Letchworth said in an email statement the City Manager’s office was notified of the event on Oct. 11. As of Oct. 12, it was not disclosed if Greenville Mayor P.J. Connelly would be in attendance at the rally.
“It is exciting to know that political candidates, including the sitting president, recognize the importance of Greenville and value the votes of our residents enough to host campaign rallies here,” Letchworth said.
In recent weeks, Pitt County has seen a downward trend of positive COVID-19 cases. At the time of publication, Pitt County had reported 234,481 total COVID-19 cases.
Letchworth said the city cannot speak on whether the rally will be a COVID-19 “superspreader” event for Pitt County.
“We (city officials) are not epidemiologists and cannot speak to this,” Letchworth said. “As with any event or gathering, we recommend that attendees follow the guidelines provided by state and local health officials.”
With any political visit there is a potential for protests, according to Letchworth. In reference to past and potential protests in Greenville, the city supports individuals’ rights to expression while they are done in a peaceful manner, he said.
On July 17, 2019, Trump came to East Carolina University’s Minges Coliseum for a campaign rally where 8,000 people were in attendance and a “send her back” chant erupted in reference to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN). Peaceful protests occurred in Greenville on the day of Trump’s visit last year.
ECU College Republican’s President Emma Arndt, who is also a senior political science major, registered for the rally the day after she heard about it. She said she and other members of the College Republicans plan to be in attendance.
“I honestly didn’t expect the president to be coming to eastern North Carolina anytime soon,” Arndt said. “I thought it was just going to be surrogates, like his children, but I’m super excited that he’s going to be able to come back to Greenville especially on (Oct.) 15, which happens to be the first day of early voting.”
Arndt said she expects Trump will focus the rally around the election, his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden and his stances on items pertinent to his platform. She said Trump’s campaign stop in Greenville is important as North Carolina is a swing state in the upcoming election.
As a college student, it’s important to take advantage of large-scale political activities to get the experience, Arndt said. She said she encourages other college students to take the opportunity to listen, learn and attend events from both political parties.
“When I transferred to ECU when I was a sophomore in 2017, you know, I had no idea that the president would be coming to Greenville of all places twice,” Arndt said. “It’s very exciting to have a person just that high up in politics, especially for me as a political science major, I think it’s very cool to have somebody like that be able to come to your college town, be able to come to essentially your home two years in a row.”
In comparison to Trump’s visit to ECU’s campus in 2019, Arndt said she hopes people are more accepting of the rally as it will be hosted off-campus this year. She said to hold the rally outside lowers the risks of COVID-19 exposure.
Arndt said she expects the rally will attract a lot of attention and registrations will be high. She said she encourages safety amid COVID-19 while she and the College Republicans have continued to practice social distancing in-person and hold online meetings.
“I know myself, I will be bringing a mask and I’ll be wearing a mask (at the rally). They’re always highly encouraged, so I’ll be making sure that I’m staying safe and I hope the rest of the attendees can do the same as well,” Arndt said. “I’m hoping and I’m thinking that everything will be good as long as we make sure we wear our masks, keep hand sanitizer going and keep our distance from each other.”
Hunter Whittington, a senior political science and economics double major, said he has concerns about the rally as he believes it could be a COVID-19 superspreader event. He said it’s irresponsible to host rallies in-person at this time.
Whittington said the organization of the rally in Greenville demonstrates a lack of care for those who live in the community. After the president’s positive COVID-19 test result surfaced on Oct. 2, Whittington said he worries the president may be contagious and believes there is potential for positive cases to rise in Pitt County following the rally.
“To be honest with you, I feel like a big reason he was infected with COVID-19 in the first place was his rallies, and I’m not particularly confident in what the administration around him has to say about his condition, and I think that there’s a chance that he could be potentially infectious and being in a setting with thousands of people potentially is dangerous not just for him but for other people,” Whittington said.
The cancellation of the second presidential debate was announced on Oct. 9 by the Commission on Presidential Debates. Whittington said he believes there were many reasons the debate was canceled.
Whittington said Trump's unwillingness to conduct the debate virtually poses questions as the president tested positive for COVID-19 and he’s chosen not to “work around an issue that he’s presented.”
“I think if he was serious about sharing his ideas with the American people he would choose to hold that debate, and I think it’s irresponsible and a little childish for him to go out and hold rallies because he can’t get his way,” Whittington said.
Whittington said he encourages everyone, especially college students, to vote in the upcoming election. He said it’s essential to remember that every vote counts.
It’s important for voters to be aware of the potential impacts of the 2020 election, according to Whittington.
“I would like everyone to be mindful that this election has long term impacts on the environment, the world, your future, the economy and to sit on the sidelines for this one is too much. You have to take your rights into your own hands and exercise them because if not it will be taken away,” Whittington said.