Republican gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Dan Forest warned of violent Marxists destroying American cities and the prospect of Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris having to take over the presidency if Joe Biden is elected during a campaign stop in Elizabeth City on Saturday.

Accompanied by his wife, Alice, Forest attended an event at the RCE Theater billed as “Popcorn and Politics.” The movie theater, owned by Janelle and Blaine Given, was one of dozens in the state forced to close under an executive order issued by Forest’s November opponent, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

The incumbent governor issued the order in March as a way to stop the spread of COVID-19. Movie theaters still can’t reopen in the state because of virus restrictions on indoor gatherings.

“Great to see you all today. What a great turnout,” Forest said. “How awesome is this to even be able to gather in a movie theater? We’re thankful for our entertainment industry. We’re thankful for the folks that are making a greater sacrifice than others right now.”

Forest said if he defeats Cooper in the Nov. 3 general election, owners of businesses like the Givens won’t have to worry about having to close their doors because of the pandemic.

“Here’s one thing I’ll guarantee you,” he said. “When I get elected governor, I will never tell a business they’re non-essential. I will never tell a business they have to close their doors.”

That remark prompted the first of several rounds of rousing applause for Forest from the audience.

Forest also discussed the violence that has erupted in some American cities like Portland, Oregon, and Kenosha, Wisconsin, where protesters have confronted police over concerns about racial justice and inequality. Referring to the violence, Forest said the biggest challenge facing Americans is what he described as the “foundation of freedom.”

“We’re not just watching rioters smash buildings; we’re watching Marxists,” he warned.

Just a few years ago the United States saw socialists running for president and for seats in Congress, Forest said. Now, the socialist movement’s adherents are trying to take over American cities, he charged.

“Now we have self-avowed Marxists destroying our cities across America,” Forest said. “Portland, Oregon, has been taken over by a bunch of communists.”

He claimed those clashing with police in cities “want communism here in the United States.” As a result, he sees Americans pitched “in a battle to truly defend freedom our country at the very, very base level.”

With fewer than 50 days remaining before the general election, Forest challenged supporters to question others about their favored candidates for governor and president of the United States.

“Then make them defend their choice,” Forest said. “Ask them why. If they’re not voting Republican this time you need to ask them why.”

As he has done previously during his campaign for governor, Forest asked the audience to imagine a scenario where Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden won the election but wasn’t able to complete his four-year term because of poor health.

“Can you imagine if Kamala Harris is president of the United States?” he asked, referring to the California senator, Biden’s running mate. “I can’t either. That would be the most extreme leftist president we’ve ever had.”

Forest suggested Biden — who is only three years older than President Trump but if he wins would be the oldest person ever elected president — wouldn’t complete his first four-year term.

“I’m pretty sure that Joe Biden with his health and his situation right now that he may not make it very long if he gets elected,” Forest said. “He may not, and I don’t say that with any great pride. He can’t string together two sentences. So, Kamala Harris could be the president if we don’t do our job in 50 days.”

In closing, Forest expressed confidence in sweeping Republican victories in November, if voters turn out.

“We sense overwhelming support,” he said. “Listen, with your help, if our grass roots turn out in mass; you guys do your job and make sure your friends and your neighbors are registered to vote; you get people out to the polls to vote; we’re going to win. And we’re going to win overwhelmingly in November. You have my word for that.”

Following his roughly 15-minute speech, Forest and his wife gathered for photos with supporters near his campaign bus in the parking lot.

Betsy Meads, a local Republican, helped arrange Forest’s campaign stop. Meads said when she learned Forest would be barnstorming through the region on Saturday, she contacted the Givens to ask their interest in hosting.

Meads said Forest’s campaign had expressed interest in meeting with Elizabeth City area supporters at a movie theater or bowling alley. That’s because under Phase 2.5 of Gov. Roy Cooper’s phased plan to reopen the state’s economy, as a precaution against COVID-19, movie theaters are still ordered to remain closed. Albemarle Lanes, the city’s local bowling alley, was allowed to reopen the weekend of Sept. 5.

Meads praised the turnout Saturday, which included a packed theater auditorium. Not all the seats inside the auditorium were filled, though, as many supporters stood spaced out along the left and right aisles to honor social distancing rules. Meads said supporters were given disinfectant wipes and had their temperatures taken before the event and facemasks were available.

Another business sector that remains closed under Cooper’s orders is auto racing. Several drivers from Dixieland Speedway had their race cars on display in the parking lot outside the theater.

Among the first to have their photo taken with Forest and his wife were the Givens. Later, Janelle Given said she told Forest that she wanted him to understand that federal and local grants she and her husband received have done little to help keep their business afloat.

“I just wanted him to understand that it did nothing to help us,” she said.

RCE Theaters was the recipient of a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan and small business grant administered by the city. Many of the businesses that received similar relief money have reopened since Cooper ordered most businesses to close in March. RCE Theaters has remained closed, so any relief funds the Givens received have been spent and their business is still closed, Janelle Given explained.

Phase 2.5 was announced Friday, Sept. 4, and is set to expire on Tuesday, Sept. 22.

Blaine Given noted that North Carolina is one of three states where movie theaters are still not allowed to reopen. The other two are Nevada and New York. Given said lobbyists for the state’s movie theater industry have sought meetings with Cooper to explain their plan to safely reopen. The governor refuses to meet with them, though, he said.

There are steps theaters can take to reduce crowd size, such as increasing the frequency of and alternating show times, Givens said. They can also close off seats in the auditorium to enforce social distancing mandates, he said.

“We are masters at social distancing,” Given said.

Earlier on Saturday, Forest addressed a crowd of over 75 supporters in the parking lot of the Pass the Salt Restaurant in Currituck County.

Forest criticized Cooper’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying the governor’s policies of closing or limiting capacity at small businesses in the state has had a negative economic impact on those businesses’ owners. Forest said a recent study showed that 60 percent of small businesses in Raleigh face closure and that all businesses are essential.

“There is no such thing as a non-essential business in America,” Forest said. “Nothing in the Constitution allows the governor or anybody else to tell our churches they can’t open on Sundays.”

Forest also encouraged those in attendance to vote for Republican candidates up and down the ballot on Nov. 3.