WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — Donald Trump had to cancel his first planned rally since the start of his criminal hush money trial because of a storm in North Carolina, an added complication for the former president and presumptive Republican nominee as he juggles legal troubles and his rematch against President Joe Biden. Trump called into the rally near the Wilmington airport less than an hour before he was scheduled to take the stage and apologized to a few thousand supporters who had gathered throughout the afternoon to express their support for the president.

Trump promised to reschedule a rally at the same location, with a “bigger and better” event.

The cancellation underscores the difficulty Trump faces as he tries to manage a presidential bid with a criminal trial that will keep him in court for most of the week. Opening arguments are expected in the trial on Monday. Voters who had assembled were ready to stand by Trump, echoing his claims that multiple pending criminal indictments are an effort to take down the presumptive Republican nominee — and squelch the people who first propelled Trump eight years ago and want to return him to the White House again.

“It’s political persecution, and if it were anybody else he wouldn’t have to be dealing with it,” said Christian Armstrong, a 28-year-old firefighter who lives in Wilmington and was attending his first Trump rally.

LeeAnn Coleman, a 42-year-old who is in a family restaurant business, said “it’s ludicrous that he’s having to do this at all,” rather than spend time focusing on “all the problems he wants to fix.”

Those sentiments validate or at least reflect Trump’s strategy to use his mandated court time to his advantage by folding the proceedings, the first time an American president has faced felony criminal charges, into the same populist, anti-establishment arguments that first fueled his rise eight years ago.

“They want to keep me off the campaign trail,” the candidate-turned-defendant insisted earlier this week in Harlem, where he visited a neighborhood convenience store and addressed a throng of media outside after spending the day at his own jury selection. Rather than pursue violent criminals, he alleged, “They go after Trump.”

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