Cronkite Staff

Friday, Oct. 19, 2018

Trump arrives in Mesa to cheering crowds, praises Senate hopeful McSally

Story updated 7:06 p.m.

MESA – President Donald Trump greeted a cheering crowd at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport about 6:45 p.m. Friday after crisscrossing metro Phoenix to show his support of U.S. Senate candidate Martha McSally.

Trump 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.

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.”

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.

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

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.

But protesters did not show up in droves ahead of Mesa’s rally. Only two protesters were inside the designated area for opposition protest before Trump’s arrival in Mesa.

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.

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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 Gabriella Bachara, Micah Alise Bledsoe, Jordan Dafnis, Jordan Evans, Adriana Falero, Samie Gebers, Anya Magnuson, Nicole Neri, Karisma Sandoval and Beichen Tong.

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