ORLANDO, Fla. (FOX 51 WOGX) - Thousands of adoring fans, taking shelter in an Orlando arena from torrential rain, welcomed President Donald Trump on Tuesday night and gave him the backdrop he craved as he officially launched his 2020 “Keep America Great” campaign.
“As long as you keep the steam in place, we have a tremendous way to go. Our future has never looked brighter or sharper,” Trump said. “The American Dream is bigger, stronger than ever before.”
From the moment he took the stage at the Amway Center, with Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” playing in the background, to the time he officially announced he was running for a second term, roughly 40 minutes had passed. He opted to warm up the crowd with some of his usual attacks on the news media, political opponents and Washington insiders.
But the crowd roared when he finally said: “I stand before you to officially launch my campaign for a second term for president of the United States.”
Throughout the roughly two-hour political rally, all of the president’s closest Florida political allies cheered on, and in a very Trumpesque way, the president took the time to thank Gov. Ron DeSantis for his “great job” in passing legislation to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities in Florida.
“Thank you, Gov. Ron for ending that whole disaster,” Trump said. “It’s common sense.”
DeSantis sat in the front row of the rally’s VIP section, which was a who’s who in Florida Republican politics. First Lady Casey DeSantis, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Sen. Rick Scott were all there to support the president’s re-election bid.
Trump was crucial in the election of DeSantis and Scott last year, and the president is likely to use DeSantis, a popular political figure in Florida, to help in his bid to win the crucial state next year.
Rick Gorka, a Trump campaign spokesman, said it is important to have a governor who is doing “extremely well and is well-liked” in Florida as the president sets up a strategy to win the nation’s largest swing state. Trump won Florida by a little more than 1 percentage point in 2016, when he ran against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
But DeSantis hinted this week that he might not be a major presence on the campaign trail.
“For me, I probably won’t be that involved. I’ll go to this and if the president needs me, but in terms of being there every single day … I mean, I got a job to do,” DeSantis told reporters at a news conference Monday in Tallahassee.
His answer came after being asked whether he was worried that his favorable poll numbers could be hurt by associating too much with Trump, who trails in polls to some Democratic candidates.
A poll released by Quinnipiac University just five hours before Trump took the stage in Orlando showed the president trailing former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Sunshine State.
Last year, the university’s polls made inaccurate predictions of the two highest-profile races in Florida. The polls showed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum and then-U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson beating their Republican counterparts. However, Nelson and Gillum both lost.
When asked if the Trump campaign was worried about low approval ratings in recent polls, Gorka said no polls predicted he would win in 2016. Yet Trump is now in White House.
To get there again, Gorka said, Florida will be “very important” to the president and predicted many rallies in the Sunshine State in the coming months. And just like on Tuesday, Florida Democrats are prepared to rally against his presidency, with massive inflatable “Baby Trump” balloons and festival-like protests that include mariachis and drag queens in an attempt to prove Democrats are inclusive of immigrant communities and LGBTQ people.
But Trump rallied support in Orlando and Orange County, where he lost by 24 points in the 2016 election. The city was not picked at random, as it is located along Interstate 4, which runs from the Tampa Bay area to Daytona Beach. The “I-4 corridor” has long been viewed as the area where Florida election are won.
“The I-4 is a very important area for any candidate hoping to win Florida statewide, and it is important for the president,” Gorka said.
At the end of the rally, the president continued to hammer his promises to keep the economy “soaring,” build a border wall and get tougher on immigration enforcement. He also made sure to warn Floridians that any vote for a Democrat would be a setback.
“Just imagine what this angry, left-wing mob would do if they were in charge of this country,” Trump said. “Imagine if we had a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress.”
Offering an alternative, he told supporters to vote for him and let the status quo feel an “earthquake” and “shut down this rigged system.”
“We did it once and now we will do it again, and this time we are going to finish the job,” Trump said.
Hundreds of people had been waiting in line for the rally since 2 a.m. on Monday -- more than 40 hours before start. Campers had tents, food, blankets and a lot of enthusiasm.
"It’s one of the most important elections we have in history," said Gary Best, who was the first in line around 2:00 a.m. Monday morning.
The Amway Center only has room for about 20,000 people and the Trump administration has said that having a ticket does not guarantee admission. For people who will not be able to get inside, they will be allowed to go into 45 Fest, an outdoor area to watch the president’s speech. The big event is scheduled to begin at 8:00 p.m.
Protesters of the event were located throughout downtown Orlando. The 'Win With Love' protest took place at Stonewall Bar, down the street from the Amway Center. Organizers were encouraging a no-contact policy with the Trump crowd and officials are encouraging all to remain peaceful. The infamous "Baby Trump'" balloon also made an appearance.
© 2019 The News Service of Florida.