President Donald Trump officially kicked off his 2020 campaign on Tuesday in front of a crowd of thousands in Florida, a key battleground state.
During a 70-minute speech in Orlando, Trump pulled out some of his greatest hits from previous rallies: harassing the so-called “fake news media,” calling to build a wall on the southern border and attacking Democratic challengers he refers to as “Sleepy Joe” – former Vice President Joe Biden – and “Crazy Bernie” – Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
“A vote for any Democrat is a vote for the rise of radical socialism and the death of the American dream,” he told the crowd that filled the 20,000-seat Amway Center, home of the Orlando Magic basketball team. “Don’t ever forget, this election is about you. It’s about your family, your future and the fate of your country.”
Thousands more watched the rally from video screens set up outside the arena.
Trump largely stuck to red meat messages popular with his base, tackling illegal immigration, restricting abortion, nominating more federal judges and building the economy.
“The American dream is back and it’s bigger, better, stronger than ever before,” Trump said. “Our economy is the envy of the world. Possibly the greatest economy we’ve had in the history of our country. We have a long way to go … our future has never looked brighter or sharper.”
Trump also spent a large amount of time attacking his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, and the controversy surrounding her deleted emails.
“If I deleted one email, like a love note for Melania, it’s the electric chair for Trump,” the president joked.
Vice President Mike Pence, first lady Melania Trump and Trump’s children joined the president for the rally. Florida Senator Marco Rubio and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, Trump’s Republican primary opponents in 2016, were also in attendance.
Trump also invited his former press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, on stage and said she would make a good governor of Arkansas, like her father, former Governor Mike Huckabee.
“He made America great again and continues to make America great,” she said. “He’s going to have an incredible six more years.”
Florida is critical to Trump’s reelection and the president has held a handful of rallies in the state since taking office. The Interstate 4 corridor between Tampa and Orlando is particularly important. The area, which covers two significant media markets, typically has more undecided voters than any part of the state.
Trump’s 2020 campaign has already raised $40 million and hired dozens of political operatives in the state. But, so far, the polls are not favoring the president.
On Tuesday, a Quinnipiac University poll found that Biden and Sanders are leading Trump in Florida. The other Democratic challengers mostly tied with the president.
Despite the large turnout for the rally, Orlando itself is not a bastion of Trump support.
The Orlando Sentinel’s editorial board, historically one of the more conservative newspaper editorial boards in the state, did not endorse Trump for 2020 in a scathing editorial Tuesday.
A few blocks away from the Trump rally, a counter-protest attracted hundreds of people opposed to the president’s policies. Techno, hip hop and a mariachi band entertained protesters until the main event: the unveiling of a giant, inflatable “baby Trump,” complete with diaper and tiny hands.
“It’s time to get rid of this president,” said Mary Schulz, who traveled from the state’s largest retirement community, the Villages. “He’s immoral, he lies, he cheats. He has lowered our country’s standing in the world.”
Schulz was still undecided on who she supports in the Democratic field.
“Anybody but,” she said.
Schulz said some Trump supporters harassed the protesters earlier, including a small faction known as the Proud Boys, a white nationalist group.
“But the police blocked them,” she said. “The police have been wonderful.”
Trump supporters waited for hours to get into the rally, standing in heat and heavy rain as the line snaked blocks around downtown Orlando. In a tweet Monday, Trump claimed 100,000 people requested tickets to the event.
Luiz Silva of Orlando stood in line for hours in the afternoon heat to show his support for the president.
“We want Trump elected,” the 51-year-old said. “Unemployment is low, there are more jobs.”
A self-described conservative Republican, Silva said he did not think any of the Democratic challengers stood a chance against Trump in 2020.
“None of them have the professionalism and charisma to attract voters,” he said.
Also in line, 69-year-old Debbie Lewis wore a large red and blue hat and carried a folding chair.
“He’s done enough,” she said of Trump. “He could do more if Congress could get their act together.”
Lewis said Trump has kept promises on his pro-life stance and immigration policies.
“I’m not talking about legal immigration,” she clarified. “Illegal immigration.”
This rally was Lewis’ second.
“Everybody is friendly, everybody is peaceable,” she said. “We got a few crazies around, but they’re allowed to be.”