By Steve Holland
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Reuters) – Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, in an appeal on Wednesday to African-Americans and working-class voters, promised “21st century” banking industry reforms and tax changes to spur job creation and investment in blighted communities.
Delivering an urban policy speech two weeks before the Nov. 8 election, Trump highlighted his plan to ease access to bank credit for young blacks trying to start businesses and create jobs in their communities.
The New York businessman, who trails Democrat Hillary Clinton in national opinion polls and is struggling to appeal to African-Americans and Latinos, also called for broader tax incentives to spur inner-city investment.
The steps, coupled with efforts to reduce U.S. trade deficits and the outsourcing of jobs abroad, Trump said, would “raise wages at home, meaning rent and bills become instantly more affordable” for the poor.
Trump flew to Charlotte, a major commercial hub in the U.S. South, after attending the formal opening in Washington of a Trump International Hotel just blocks from the White House.
Trump’s detour from the campaign trail to plug his business drew criticism from some fellow Republicans, but the former reality TV star said the project, completed “under budget and ahead of schedule,” showed what he could accomplish if elected president.
His Democratic rival, Clinton, said: “Donald Trump is actually paying more attention to his business than to the campaign. That’s his choice, but we’re going to keep working really hard to reach as many voters as possible.”
Speaking to reporters during a flight to New York after campaigning in Florida, Clinton also said the proposed merger of AT&T Inc <T.N> and Time Warner Inc <TWX.N> “raises questions and concerns and they should be looked into.”
In Charlotte, Trump provided few details of “21st century Glass-Steagall,” which would build on the 1933 Depression-era law requiring the separation of commercial and investment banking.
Glass-Steagall was repealed in 1999 under then-President Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton’s husband. The 2008 financial crisis prompted an overhaul of banking rules with the passage in 2010 of “Dodd-Frank” Wall Street reforms that many Republicans have criticized.
“Dodd-Frank has been a disaster, making it harder for small businesses to get the credit they need,” Trump said.
Trump, speaking to a mostly white audience after meeting with black religious leaders, said he would step up the police presence in U.S. cities so that “every poor African-American child” can walk on the streets in safety.
“Safety is a civil right. The problem is not the presence of police but the absence of police,” he said.
Last month, hundreds of demonstrators protested in Charlotte after the release of videos showing the fatal shooting of a black man by police officers.
TRUMP ‘WALLS ARE COLLAPSING’
While Trump’s speech stuck mainly to policy initiatives, he also got in a jab at Clinton.
“Honestly, she has less energy than Jeb Bush,” Trump said, criticizing Clinton’s stamina and harking back to his charges that Bush, a former rival for the Republican nomination, was “low energy.”
Clinton told reporters that “there was not an ounce of complacency” in her campaign and said that if elected, she would reach out to Republicans and independents, including congressional leaders, “both before the inauguration and to continue afterwards.”
Before Trump’s Charlotte speech, much of Wednesday’s media attention focused on Trump’s appearance at his new, 263-room luxury hotel.
Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, who led 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s unsuccessful campaign, said the hotel stop was the latest inexplicable act from Trump and atypical behaviour for someone trying to win the White House.
“The walls are collapsing,” Schmidt told MSNBC in an interview. “He is not doing any of the normal activities that you’d be doing 13 days out in a presidential race for somebody who’s competitive. You don’t take a time-out to tend to your business interests.”
Trump, making his first run for elected office, often highlights his business accomplishments and has held numerous events at his properties since launching his White House bid last year, including a trip to Scotland to open a refurbished golf resort in June.
Asked after the event why he was in Washington instead of campaigning in a battleground state, Trump told CNN it was “a very rude question” and said he worked hard on the trail every day.
“I can’t take one hour off to cut a ribbon at one of the great hotels of the world? I mean, I think I’m entitled to it,” Trump told ABC News. He said there was a double standard, noting that Clinton was not criticized for taking time to see the singer Adele in concert on Tuesday night.
Clinton campaigned on Wednesday in Florida, where many opinion polls show a tight race.
An average of Florida polls compiled by RealClearPolitics showed Clinton at 46.4 percent compared with 44.8 percent for Trump in a race including third-party candidates.
Clinton has a strong lead in the race to secure the 270 Electoral College votes – or tally of wins from the states – needed to capture the White House, according to results from Reuters/Ipsos States of the Nation project released on Saturday.
(Additional reporting by Emily Stephenson and Doina Chiacu in Washington and Jeff Mason in Florida; Writing by John Whitesides and Richard Cowan; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)