What to Know
- Thousands packed into a convention center in the Jersey Shore city to watch as President Donald Trump addressed a slew of topics
- Trump held the rally in a county with almost no factory jobs to save, a reliance on immigrant workers and an economy built in part by coastal elites who summer there
- Tuesday's rally was along the beach in Wildwood in support of New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who flipped to the Republican party last month after opposing the impeachment of the president
Winter typically leaves many parts of New Jersey's shore deserted, complete with blinking traffic lights and shuttered boardwalk shops, but President Donald Trump's rally for Rep. Jeff Van Drew jolted Wildwood to life on Tuesday, with rally-goers flocking to the seaside resort.
Thousands packed into a convention center in the Jersey Shore city to watch as the president — in his first rally since the Senate's impeachment trial began — addressed a wide range of topics, including the economy, Democrats running to oppose him and a New Jersey congressman who now has the president's blessing after switching sides.
Some of those supporters had been there for days — camping out overnight in some cases — stood in a line that snaked through part of the town ahead of the rally. The mood among supporters was one of camaraderie.
"In Wildwood, we are in the middle of winter. There's nobody in the middle of winter," Trump said during the rally. But "those streets are packed," he added.
Denise Hayes came from Flemington, New Jersey, early Tuesday. She said she had been an independent until 2016 when Trump persuaded her to become a Republican in part because of his truth-telling tone but she said she typically doesn't bring up politics with people because Trump's detractors sometimes don't tolerate his policies.
"It's really good to see all the support," she said from a bench, sitting while another supporter held her spot in line. "I'm just looking forward to all the energy in the room."
Other Trump backers were eager to make pleas to any fence-sitting independents, or unhappy Democrats.
Fred Conteh, an engineer from Morganville, New Jersey, immigrated to the United States in 2000 from Sierra Leone in West Africa. Conteh said he's a Democrat and implored voters to consider the economy when heading to the ballot box in November. He wore a Trump scarf and a pin that said "CNN sucks."
"I'm a registered Democrat, but I believe in common sense politics so that's why I'm supporting Donald J. Trump," he said.
Vendors propped pop-up tents along the boards and main roads near the oceanfront convention center, hawking all kinds of memorabilia, from red "Make America Great Again" hats to socks depicting the president, complete with a Trump-like tuft of hair sprouting at calf-height. Bars and restaurants overflowed with patrons wearing hats with the president's signature slogan.
Trump's rally at the more than 7,000-person-capacity convention center came the same day his attorneys wrapped up their impeachment defense in the Senate and as a show of support for Van Drew, who left the Democratic Party last month over his opposition to impeachment.
Trump heaped praise on the newest Republican member of Congress and savaging Democrats he said are engaged in "demented hoaxes" like his impeachment trial. "Jeff had the guts to defy the left-wing fanatics in his own party," he said about Van Drew after bringing him on stage.
"While we are creating jobs and killing terrorists, the congressional Democrats are obsessed with demented hoaxes, crazy witch hunts and deranged partisan crusades. That's all they know how to do," Trump said.
The 2nd District, which Van Drew represents, covers all or part of eight counties in southern New Jersey, and voted for Trump in 2016 after earlier backing Barack Obama. New Jersey is a reliably Democratic state in presidential elections.
Trump highlighted the economy during much of his speech, noting that 7 million jobs have been created since his election. He also continued to boast of the U.S. drone strike in Baghdad that killed Iran's most powerful general, Qassem Soleimani, on Jan. 3. He cited the strike while attacking his political rivals with language that was incendiary even for a Trump rally.
"We stopped him cold, yet Washington Democrats like crazy Bernie Sanders and nervous Nancy Pelosi, they opposed our actions to save American lives. They opposed it," Trump asserted to a roar of boos.
Remaining largely disciplined, Trump avoided the specifics of the impeachment trial and did not mention the name of his former national security adviser John Bolton, whom Democrats want to call as a witness in the case. But Trump mused at the rally about competing in New Jersey this election — he lost by double-digit percentage points in 2016 — and polled the crowd about whether he should hold a rally at the state's famed Meadowland Sports Complex over the summer.
Democrats and their allies held a counter-rally just off the boardwalk, though they were outnumbered by Trump backers who heckled them.
Wildwood in Cape May County is known for its wide beaches, amusement-lined boardwalk and many colorful motels. Its noted trolley-like people-mover, the tram-car, wasn't running along the boardwalk as it typically does in summer, when the city's population swells from 90,000 to about 670,000.