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WATCH: Trump designates Wilmington, N.C., as nation’s first World War II Heritage City

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — President Donald Trump used the power of incumbency to his advantage Wednesday, making a personal appearance in a key battleground state on V-J Day to declare the port city of Wilmington, North Carolina a World War II “Heritage City.”

Watch Trump’s remarks in the video player above.

Congress passed a bill earlier this year that included a provision requiring the secretary of the interior to annually designate one city in the United States as an “American World War II Heritage City.”

Wilmington is the first city to get that designation and Trump did not miss the chance to celebrate in person, although White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany insisted earlier this week that “there’s not a political purpose in this visit.”

But when he landed in Wilmington, Trump told a few hundred supporters that his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, is “stone cold crazy.”

“We’re making strides, you know, the stock market’s hitting another high,” Trump said, adding that the U.S. economy is coming back “very strongly” from the coronavirus pandemic.

The president’s visit to North Carolina comes as county boards start sending absentee ballots to voters on Friday. Vice President Mike Pence will follow the president by visiting Raleigh on Thursday.

Trump won North Carolina by 3.6 percentage points in 2016, but polls are showing an extremely close race taking shape in a state that generates 15 electoral votes for its winner.

Through Sept. 1, more than 591,000 ballot requests had been received, compared to approximately 36,500 through the same period in 2016, the state elections board said Wednesday.

More than half of the absentee ballots, or approximately 313,000 have been requested by Democrats. Republicans have requested more than 93,000 and registered unaffiliated voters account for approximately 183,000 ballot requests.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, released a statement in advance of the trip saying that Trump has not provided North Carolina with the roadmap and resources needed to protect businesses, schools and families from the coronavirus.

“Instead of honoring the sacrifice of our frontline heroes, President Trump has repeatedly ignored public health guidance for political purposes,” Biden said.

Wilmington has been home to the Battleship North Carolina since 1962. The ship was active in the Pacific theater during World War II and is now a floating museum. Hershel “Woody” Williams, a Marine who is the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient to have fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima in the Pacific, is traveling with the president.

The city also was home to the North Carolina Shipbuilding Company, which constructed vessels in support of the war effort. The trip also comes on the day the U.S. commemorates victory over Japan.

Associated Press writer Jonathan Drew in Durham, N.C., contributed to this report.

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