Trump rallies Mesa crowd to support Republican McSally in tight Senate race

Story updated 8:30 p.m.

MESA – President Donald Trump told a crowd of thousands in a Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport hangar Friday night that a vote for U.S. Senate candidate Martha McSally would be the “second-best vote you ever cast.” The greatest vote was for him, he said.

Trump had crisscrossed metro Phoenix Friday to stump for McSally, culminating in the rally.

The president said McSally will “protect your jobs, defend your borders and continue making America great again.” And he reminded the crowd that early voting already has begun in Arizona.

“If anybody would like to leave and go out to vote, I don’t mind at all,” Trump said.

Before introducing Martha McSally, President Trump reminded the crowd that early voting already has begun in Arizona. (Photo by Anya Magnuson/Cronkite News)

President Trump visited the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport for a rally featuring senate candidate Martha McSally. (Photo by Anya Magnuson/Cronkite News)

Crowd members join in to cheer in support of President Trump as they await his arrival. (Photo by Anya Magnuson/Cronkite News)

President Trump and Martha McSally arrive at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport after visiting Luke Air Force Base. Trump told the crowd that McSally will “protect your jobs, defend your borders and continue making America great again.” (Photo by Anya Magnuson)

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey gets the crowd fired up during his speech endorsing Martha McSally for state senate. (Photo by Anya Magnuson/Cronkite News)

Attendees of the rally held in Mesa by President Trump wait for his arrival. (Photo by Anya Magnuson/Cronkite News)

People await President Trump and Martha McSally's arrival in Mesa. (Photo by Anya Magnuson/Cronkite News)

Trump supporters stream Donald Trump's speech outside the rally in Mesa. (Photo by Nicole Neri/Cronkite News)

Isabelle Morse, a freshman at Northern Arizona University, protests with a small group of demonstrators outside of the Make America Great Again rally in Mesa. (Photo by Nicole Neri/Cronkite News)

Trump supporters mock a small group of protestors outside the rally. (Photo by Nicole Neri/Cronkite News)

Randy Behrens stands among a large crowd outside the America Great Again rally in Mesa. (Photo by Nicole Neri/Cronkite News)

Laura Heilman holds her 6-year-old daughter, Brynn Moore, as they watch a screen broadcasting Donald Trump's speech outside the rally. (Photo by Nicole Neri/Cronkite News)

Thoren Santaall, wearing a "Gay Hispanics 4 Trump" shirt, mocks a small group of protestors outside the rally. (Photo by Nicole Neri/Cronkite News)

Andy Sanders yells about meatloaf and ice cream as much of the crowd joins him outside of a Make America Great Again rally in Mesa, Arizona Oct. 19, 2018. (Photo by Nicole Neri/Cronkite News)

Supporters of President Trump hold signs at his rally on Friday. (Photo by Anya Magnuson/Cronkite News)

The crowd waves goodbye to President Trump as he boards Marine One in Mesa. (Photo by Anya Magnuson/Cronkite News)

A policeman clears a path for ambulances after a woman lost consciousness outside of a Make America Great Again rally in Mesa. (Photo by Nicole Neri/Cronkite News)

Mannequins sit naked after all the shirts were sold outside the Trump rally in Mesa. (Photo by Nicole Neri/Cronkite News)

Philip Brown, of Mesa, attended the rally with his three children: Seven-year-old Claire (in black) played with 23-month-old McKinsey, as their brother Ezekiel watched. (Photo by Anya Magnuson/Cronkite News)

Philip Brown, of Mesa, attended the rally with his three children: Seven-year-old Claire (in black) played with 23-month-old McKinsey, as their brother Ezekiel watched. (Photo by Anya Magnuson/Cronkite News)

Dan Pankow, of Gold Canyon, says he came to see President Donald Trump at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. (Photo by Anya Magnuson/Cronkite News)

Kimberly Calvert, of Scottsdale, came to the rally in support of President Trump today. (Photo by Anya Magnuson/Cronkite News)

Attendees of the rally held in Mesa by President Trump wait for his arrival. (Photo by Anya Magnuson/Cronkite News)

Some Donald Trump supporters say they had been waiting in line since before dawn to attend President Donald Trump's rally on Friday at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. (Photo by Jordan Evans/Cronkite News)

Maricopa County Deputies Hector Martinez and Clint Bradshaw patrol the area as attendees line the streets and fill the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport hangar. (Photo by Jordan Evans/Cronkite News)

Trump supporters line up to attend a Make America Great Again rally in Mesa. (Photo by Jordan Evans/Cronkite News)Mike Harris, 55, sells Trump paraphernalia at political rallies. This is the 54th Trump rally he has attended. (Photo by Anya Magnuson/Cronkite News)

"I wasn’t even a Trump follower in the beginning," says Trump merchandiser Mike Harris. "Now that I’ve seen the change in the economy, it changed my mind." (Photo by Anya Magnuson/Cronkite News)

Many people buying buttons, shirts and other Trump gear from Mike Harris at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport were from out-of-state. (Photo by Anya Magnuson/Cronkite News)

Supporters of President Donald Trump line up hours before his rally Friday at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. (Photo by Anya Magnuson/Cronkite News)

McSally faces Democrat Kyrsten Sinema in the race for U.S. Senate. Trump had referred to McSally as “brilliant” earlier in the day, while calling Sinema a “very, very strange opponent.”

At the rally, Trump touched on many familiar themes – tightening border security, improving health care and “draining the swamp.”

McSally took the stage and told the president: “I just want to let you know, we are not crazy here. Unlike what my opponent said, we are not the meth lab of democracy.”

Bill Burke, who described Trump as his hero, attended his first Trump rally. After, he said Trump was long overdue in America.

“I’ve been wanting a president like this for 35 years,” he said. “I was wondering where they were, and we finally ended up with a great one with a backbone of stainless steel.”

In response to Trump’s visit, Sinema told reporters that Arizonans “don’t care about big fancy names” from outside. They care about health care.

The race has attracted national attention, and Democrats have cited it as an opportunity to shift the power balance in Congress.

Friday’s rally comes as a Democratic senatorial seat appears to be a real possibility. A poll released Friday by Data Orbital had Sinema with a slight lead. The telephone survey included 600 voters, according to the group. Previous polls show the candidates locked in a neck-and-neck battle.

Earlier in the day, Trump went from a fundraiser in Scottsdale to a tour of Luke Air Force Base in Glendale before heading to the “Make America Great” rally.

Thousands of people had lined up in Mesa as dawn broke Friday.

Jay Cole of Mesa, a Trump rally veteran, said for these events, it’s best to leave before dawn to be among the first in line.

“I like to be in the front so I can get front row seats so I can be close to him,” Cole said, adding that hearing the president speak would be worth the long wait.

His brother, Tim Cole, was attending his first Trump rally. He’s said he wasn’t sure what to expect, but he was game.

“I’ve never met or been around the president or any president, so I thought it would be fun,” he said.

By 1 p.m., the line snaked around the building, owned by a private air-services provider, where the rally was scheduled. Mesa police said about 1,000 people were waiting but called it a rough estimate.

One of those was Teresa Mendoza, a Mesa resident and a member of the Latinas for Trump national group. She said she was a longtime Democrat but became a Republican after Trump was elected.

“The Democrats are out of control,” she said. “Now I’m not only an ex-Democrat, I’ll never vote Democrat again. He turned me into a Trumpster.”

She attended Trump’s Phoenix rally last year, which led to Phoenix police using tear gas and pepper-spray bullets on protesters after the rally. The Phoenix chapter of the ACLU has filed a class action lawsuit, saying police overreacted.

But Mendoza said she hopes police would use force again if protesters act irrationally. What brought her to this rally, she said, is seeing people of all backgrounds supporting Trump’s values.

A few hundred people gathered in the “Free Speech Zone” outside the hangar during the rally. Some were protesters, others were supporters who could not get into the event.

The president had arrived late Thursday night at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and headed directly to the Scottsdale Princess resort.

McSally had announced Trump’s tour of Luke during a debate on Monday night that aired on Arizona PBS.

While the president worked, so did Mike Harris, 55, a vendor from San Antonio who has attended rallies consistently since 2016. The Mesa rally is his 54th, he said.

“I wasn’t even a Trump follower in the beginning,” Harris said. “Now that I’ve seen the change in the economy, it changed my mind.”

Harris has also attended rallies for political parties, including a Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. “I like to know both sides.”

Many people buying buttons, shirts and other Trump gear are from out of state, he said.

Cronkite News reporters Jennifer Alvarez, Gabriella Bachara, Micah Alise Bledsoe, Jordan Dafnis, Jordan Evans, Adriana Falero, Samie Gebers, Anya Magnuson, Chris McCrory, Nicole Neri, Karisma Sandoval and Beichen Tong contributed to this article.

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