PHOENIX — Supporters lined up outside Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum ahead of President Donald Trump’s rally Wednesday night kept the energy high with chants of “USA!” “Build the wall!” and “Four more years!”
The rally comes weeks after the Senate acquitted Trump after an impeachment trial. He is scheduled to speak to a packed crowd at 7 p.m., just as a slew of Democratic candidates who are vying for the chance to replace him debate onstage in neighboring Nevada.
This is Trump’s 10th visit in five years to Arizona, a traditionally Republican state that recently has turned more purple.
The crowd packed into the 15,000-seat coliseum, reaching capacity, according to Phoenix police.
In a designated “free speech” zone north of the state fairgrounds, a smaller but vocal group of several hundred protesters waved placards and denounced policies they say tear immigrant families apart and assault democracy.
McSally, Lesko, Biggs may have roles at rally
Rep. Debbie Lesko’s office said on Wednesday that Lesko, Sen. Martha McSally and Rep. Andy Biggs were scheduled to have speaking roles at the rally before Trump takes the stage.
“I think he’s easily going to be reelected,” Lesko said. “We can’t rest on our laurels because I’ve seen firsthand how the Democrats will do anything and say anything to grab back power. But you know looking at all those Democrat candidates for president, I don’t see any of them beating President Trump.”
Lesko was one of eight U.S. congressmen to serve on Trump’s impeachment defense team. She does not believe that Arizona will turn blue.
“Arizona is a crucial state and President Trump will be reelected here,” Lesko said. “We want to make sure that Martha McSally is also re-elected. She’s a great strong Republican woman and she does a great job.”
Trump’s last appearance in Arizona was in October 2018, when he showed up to support Rep. Martha McSally’s bid for a Senate seat. McSally lost a closely contested election to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema but took office in January 2019 to fill the remaining term of Sen. John McCain.
Kelli Ward, chair of the Arizona Republican Party, agrees with Lesko’s sentiment about Republicans maintaining their advantage in Arizona.
“We’re a tier-one state definitely,” Ward said. “We are on the map.”
Ward started speaking to the crowd shortly after 5 p.m.
Doors open, crowd files in
An ambulating festival of red, white and blue made its way into the coliseum as doors opened a little before 3 p.m. Supporters donned hats and T-shirts.
Prominent Arizona Republican Reps. Debbie Lesko and Andy Bigg smiled at people in primary color seats at the coliseum, which seats nearly 15,000.
By 3:30 p.m. the main parking was filled. All public parking at the fairgrounds was filled shortly after 5 p.m, according to Phoenix transportation officials.
Presidential Visit Update:
Parking lots at the Fairgrounds are now full. Expect backups on many of the surrounding streets.
— Phoenix Police (@PhoenixPolice) February 20, 2020
Keep on tweeting
Catherine Buzzell, 63, of Phoenix, attended the rally with a group of friends and colleagues from American Airlines, where she’s worked 40 years as a flight attendant.
Asked what she likes most about Trump, Buzzell replied: “Everything.”“He reaches out to his people by his tweets so we know what’s going on, because the media’s not supporting our president,” she said. “So by his tweeting, we understand what he’s trying to do. I love him. I love the tweets. Keep on tweeting!”
Buzzell especially agrees with Trump’s stance on illegal immigration. “I do agree with building that wall. … We have to keep our country safe. And the only way to do it is to build that wall. Safety means a lot more than illegals coming across. It’s the drugs.”
Buzzell isn’t worried about the forthcoming election, because the Democratic candidates, she said, “have no message.”
“They want socialism. We are a free country. We don’t want socialism here. … We don’t have that here, and we don’t want it,” Buzzell said.
As for Trump’s impeachment for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, she doesn’t think it will hurt his chances in November.
“They never found anything, they will ever find anything,” she said. “This president is doing a good job for us American people. We love him for that. That’s why you see the support as highly as you see it, everywhere he goes.”
Flipping Arizona from red to blue
Suzie Miranda of Phoenix, who gives her age as 60+, is a long-time Democrat hoping to flip Arizona from a red state to blue.
She joined counterprotesters to raise awareness of the injustice of the immigrant families who have been separated under Trump’s administration.
“There’s thousands of children that aren’t reunited with their families and there’s no justification for it,” she said. “These are children that don’t have their moms, dads or brothers.”
Roseann Gonzales, 52, of Phoenix, came out to support those who disagree with Trump’s policies, including her cousin, Alice, who lives in Texas and couldn’t attend the rally.
“I have a difficult time when someone makes a claim to make an already great country great again,” Gonzales said. “To me it’s not about being a Democrat, it’s not about being a Republican – it’s about being an American.”
– Jonmaesha Beltran
Puente, a migrant rights organization in Phoenix, is leading counterprotests.
Puente member Noemi Romero said there is a lot of fear and trauma after what happened at Trump’s last rally in 2017 – when the aftermath led to Phoenix police firing tear gas and pepper spray at protesters.
Romero added that a “nonviolent protest is always the goal” and to just ignore how Trump supporters may react Wednesday night.
“We cannot normalize the racism that the Trump administration has brought in to this country,” she said.
A year after the rally altercation, Puente joined Poder in Action and four individuals to file a lawsuit against Phoenix, citing compensation for damages to the protesters.
The American Civil Liberty Union’s latest update on Puente v. Phoenix, in October 2019, shows the case moved forward as a class action lawsuit, according to a news release issued by the ACLU Foundation of Arizona.
On Wednesday the ACLU of Arizona issued a statement on the 2017 altercation, adding they were not specifically commenting on Wednesday’s rally.
“In 2017, the Phoenix Police Department (PPD) used indiscriminate and aggressive force against thousands of people peacefully exercising their right to protest by deploying tear gas, pepper spray, and pepper bullets on a crowd that included elderly protestors and children,” the statement reads. “While our lawsuit against PPD and the City of Phoenix is still being litigated, we will monitor how PPD handles the President’s visit tonight and will take all necessary action to hold PPD accountable.”
A Phoenix police spokesperson previously said officers “acted in a professional and decisive manner.”
‘He is for America’
“I see the socialists are taking over this country. I am scared,” said Lisa Kamplin-Gran, who left Vietnam for America in 1972. The former Boeing employee said she knows firsthand the limitations of a communist country.
“When they control you, they take your freedom,” Kamplin-Gran said, adding that she used to be a Democrat, but “Democrats sold us out.”
The impeachment, she said, was a disgrace. “Trump didn’t do anything wrong – he is for America.”
– Dzevida Sadikovic
Hours before the doors opened at 3 p.m., Lee Hatfield, 75, and Diane Chavez, 41, both of Mesa, were the first two protesters to show up in the “free speech” zone along Encanto Boulevard north of the coliseum. They said Trump’s signature slogan “Make America great again” actually is about race.
“The majority of the white people who support him live in the ’50s. They want to go back to when it was the whites in charge, instead of multicultural,” Hatfield said.
Hatfield said Democratic candidate Mike Bloomberg is the only candidate who can beat Trump because Bloomberg represents a multicultural change.
“Everyone should be united. That’s why it says ‘United States,'” he said.
– Jonmaesha Beltran
The Latino vote
Anna Espericueta, 44, of Phoenix, wore an American flag scarf and pins with such slogans as “Women for Trump.” The staunch Trump supporter identifies as Mexican and American, and she said Trump will “keep America great.”
“Technically I’m considered a Chicana, but I embrace both my cultures – both the Mexican one and the American one,” Espericueta said. “And I hope that Mexicans and more Mexican-Americans can realize the positive effect Donald Trump is doing in this country.”
About 28% of the Latino voters supported Trump in the last election, according to 2016 data from the Pew Research Center.
“I believe he supports legal immigration, but illegal immigration is not a good thing for our country,” Espericueta said.
Trump’s stance on immigration is among his most controversial policies, with conservatives, liberals and moderates weighing in on severe limits to the number of refugees the country can take in to family separation at the border.
Election season underway
Amid a sea of Trump memorabilia and MAGA hats, volunteers wearing red shirts reading “Voter Registration Strikeforce Member” roamed the crowd with clipboards.
The deadline for voter registration just passed – on Feb. 18. Voting season in Arizona starts March 17 with the Presidential Preference Election – which is only open to registered Democrats in the state.
The Republican Party still carries the majority of registered voters at 34.7% compared to Democrats at 31.3%, according to the Secretary of State website. But the sweet spot for members of both parties lies in “Other” – voters not registered with any party – at 33.1%.
Chants fill the air
The crowd surrounding the coliseum pumped up the energy with various chants. Some popular ones:
Build the wall! Build the wall! Four more years! Four more years!
“Build that wall” chants outside the Coliseum as the line continues to grow pic.twitter.com/i0PD7XHtKW
— Jordan Elder (@JordanElderTV) February 19, 2020
Trump made building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border a linchpin of his 2016 bid for president. This week, the Trump administration announced it is waiving contracting laws to speed the wall’s construction.
Arizona’s traditional status as a Republican Party stronghold was shored up by Trump carrying the state in 2016. But his win was narrow – 49% to 46%. Arizona is seen as a potential battleground state for 2020 — a result of “progressive organizing efforts” and “demographic shifts,” according to Politico. Red tides turned purple in the 2018 midterms when Arizonans elected a Democratic as senator for the first time in nearly three decades.
Volunteering for Trump
Ronda Doolen, 48, who volunteered at the rally, said she wants to hear from Trump about the border wall and get an update on immigration.
Born and raised in Arizona, she was heartened by her surroundings.
“I think the best part for me is being around such great people; the kindness that is shown, and everyone’s so appreciative and considerate,” she said. “We’re all excited about our president, supporting our president and we’re hoping for another four years.”
– Caroline Linch
Seeking school choice
Forest Moriarty, 45, of Phoenix came to the rally to support the president and be with like-minded people. Whenever you see stories in the news media about Trump supporters, something negative usually follows, he said.
Moriarty’s main issue is school choice, and he wants to hear what Trump has to say about it.
“Part of the reason I got involved in politics was because of education,” he said. “And so I’m ecstatic to hear the president talk about federal scholarships that allow kids to get out of their failing public schools and go to other schools that will actually work for them.”
As Moriarty talked, the crowd erupted in a chant of: “Four more years! Four more years!”
– Dzevida Sadikovic
This was father and son Scott and Sam Dalgliesh’s third time waiting in line for a Trump rally. They didn’t come early enough to get inside the last two rallies, so Sam, 14, played hooky from school and plans to do homework in his chair.
The father and son joined hundreds of supporters who snaked around the coliseum at the state fairgrounds, hours before the president’s expected appearance. Some had camped out the night before.
– Jordan Elder
Protesters from Puente
Diverse groups have planned counter protests. Two hours before Trump speaks, organizers from Puente, a migrant justice organization in Phoenix, will lead a march 2 miles from their headquarters to the fairgrounds, according to their Facebook event page.