President Donald Trump hit familiar notes ranging from the economy to Arizona-focused issues such as immigration and sanctuary cities in a Wednesday night rally at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
The president roused thousands of supporters as he continued on the re-election campaign trail – the same night six Democrats debated in neighboring Nevada, vying for the chance to deny him a second term in the White House.
Trump said he started a movement on election night in 2016, citing it as a “wonderful, beautiful night.”
“And we’re going to have another beautiful night in November,” he said. “This time, it’s going to be November 3.”
The president bragged about his chances of capturing Arizona, a reliably Republican state that’s showing signs of a Democratic resurgence. Trump swatted away Democratic efforts.
“They want to let anyone from around the world to walk across the border,” Trump told a packed crowd, calling migrants who cross the border “aliens” and “criminals.”
He pledged that nearly “one mile a day” would soon be added to the U.S.-Mexico border wall.
Arizona Republicans are adamant the state will remain a GOP stronghold. Gov. Doug Ducey told the crowd, “We are going to keep our Republican majorities in our congressional delegations and state chambers.”
Trump touched on such Arizona topics as opportunity zones, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and moves to ban so-called sanctuary cities. Tucson voters last year rejected a measure to declare the immigration friendly city as a sanctuary city under the shadow of a threat to lose millions in federal aid. And Arizona lawmakers are considering contentious measures to prevent cities from passing sanctuary city laws.
The president touted opportunity zones, where businesses develop in economically distressed areas in exchange for tax benefits. Advocates say they revitalize neighborhoods, skeptics contend they gentrify thriving communities.
An Arizona Republic analysis of opportunity zones in Maricopa County in late 2019 found that some of the areas likely would draw developers without the tax break.
Trump, as he has at previous rallies around the country, cited a litany of accomplishments, from a powerful military to banning abortions. That, he said, drives his popularity.
“Our poll numbers are higher than ever before,” said Trump, leaning on familiar tropes to engage the crowd, putting down “radical Democrats” and news media he said is so negative they drive down his approval ratings.
He reserved praise for a lineup of Arizona Republicans politicians and supporters, before personally introducing Sen. Martha McSally, who faces former astronaut Mark Kelly in November for the seat once held by John McCain.
This was Trump’s 10th visit to the Grand Canyon State since 2015. His last was in October 2018, when he campaigned in support of McSally’s Senate race against Kyrsten Sinema. McSally, who had served in Congress, lost but was appointed by Gov. Doug Ducey to fill out McCain’s term.
Arizona Rep. Debbie Lesko joined Trump’s warm-up crew during the rally. The crowd was revved up, chanting “USA! USA!”
Donald Trump Jr. also took to the stage before his father’s appearance and handed out hats to chants of “46” to encourage him to follow in his father’s footsteps to the White House.
Hours earlier, another father and son, Scott and Sam Dalgliesh, were among those in line that snaked around the coliseum. Sam, 14, played hooky from school and did his homework while he waited to see if they would make it inside.
“We decided if we wanted to make it in, we’re going to have to fully commit,” Scott Dalgliesh said. “So, we decided to do a full day of enjoying the Arizona sunshine and everybody else is coming in, see if we can sneak our way to the front.”
The 15,000-seat coliseum reached capacity with chanting, excited Trump supporters, some of whom had lined up a day earlier. An estimated 500 to 700 protesters gathered in the designated “free speech zone” just north of the state fairgrounds.
Alexander Chawen, 35, said Trump is slowly dismantling democracy.
“There’s a lot of people suffering right now, a lot of people of color, alternative gender individuals, everybody except a small category of people are suffering,” he said. “If we don’t do anything about it, it’s only going to get worse.”
Many people today are misguided by politics, Chawen said.
“A lot of people think politics are a game and think it’s sports,” he said. “It’s your team versus my team. They are completely disconnected from these communities that suffer on a regular basis.”
Trump spoke at the same time the ninth Democratic presidential debate for 2020 took place in Las Vegas.
Trump narrowly carried Arizona in the 2016 election, 49% to 46%. However, experts say Arizona may join a list of key battleground states in 2020, drawn by progressive efforts and a population boom bringing in more Democratic voters to urban areas. Registered Republicans still outnumber Democrats but the gap is closing, with independents the second highest number of registered voters, behind Republicans.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, making his first appearance onstage since joining the race late, joined five other Democratic presidential candidates, including frontrunners Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttegieg.
Trump trotted out derisive nicknames for the Democratic candidates, calling Sanders “Crazy Bernie” and Bloomberg “Mini-Mike.” He also took jabs at the impeachment inquiry and trial, calling it a hoax.
Cronkite New reporters Jonmaesha Beltran, Danielle Malkin, Dylan McKim and Velvet Wahl contributed to this story.