In Tampa visit, Trump finds a way to have a rally

Miami Herald - - Sports - BY STEVE CON­TORNO AND MARGO SNIPE Tampa Bay Times Tampa Bay Times re­porter Tracey McManus, Mi­ami Herald Staff Writer David Smi­ley and Mc­Clatchy re­porter Francesca Chambers con­trib­uted to this re­port.

TAMPA

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump found a way to bring back his ral­lies.

As a Lee Green­wood pa­tri­otic an­them blasted over the speak­ers, Trump on Fri­day stepped off Air Force One and into a sti­fling July af­ter­noon, where a crowd of sev­eral hun­dred sup­port­ers waited for him on the Tampa tar­mac.

There were few masks in sight, but plenty of MAGA hats.

Trump wasted no time, div­ing right into a 30-minute set list of cam­paign rhetoric, the kind he nor­mally re­serves for are­nas. The au­di­ence — those who stayed, at least, though about one-third sought shel­ter from the mer­ci­less sun — heard Trump paint a dark pic­ture of Amer­ica that would be over­run by ter­ror­ists, gangs and China if for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den is elected in Novem­ber. He boasted of the new mis­siles, new rock­ets and the souped-up po­lice de­part­ments that he said had been built dur­ing his ten­ure.

Stand­ing be­hind him were 14 sher­iffs and deputies from around the state (it was 15 be­fore one ducked out in a wob­bly daze with the help of se­cret ser­vice). Ear­lier in the day, Trump re­ceived an en­dorse­ment from the Florida Po­lice Benev­o­lent As­so­ci­a­tion, the state’s largest po­lice union.

“As long as I’m pres­i­dent, I will never de­fund your po­lice,” Trump said.

Trump ar­rived in Tampa Bay at an es­pe­cially per­ilous mo­ment. More peo­ple are dy­ing from coro­n­avirus in Florida than at any point dur­ing the pan­demic. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of Florid­i­ans are out of work and ad­di­tional fed­eral un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits are ex­pir­ing. And as if the night­mare could not get worse, a hur­ri­cane is bar­rel­ing to­ward the state’s east coast.

“You’ve seen worse,” Trump said of Hur­ri­cane Isaias. “You’ve seen some beau­ties.”

Still, by 3:30 p.m., there were signs he’s still got the backing of his base. Lo­cal po­lice and sher­iffs cars and thou­sands of peo­ple lined the roads lead­ing from Tampa In­ter­na­tional Air­port to the Pel­i­can Golf Club in Bel­leair. Some roads clos­est to the venue were blocked, turn­ing cars away. Only event at­ten­dees were able to ac­cess the streets closed to the golf club. Be­cause some res­i­den­tial roads were blocked, res­i­dents with proof of an ad­dress within the perime­ter were al­lowed through. More than a hun­dred Trump sup­port­ers stood along the mo­tor­cade route three miles from the club.

U.S. Sen. Rick Scott joined Trump on Air Force One. Trump was greeted at the bot­tom of the stairs by incoming state Sen. Pres­i­dent Wil­ton Simp­son, R-Trilby, and Danny Burgess, a lo­cal state se­nate can­di­date and for­mer di­rec­tor of the Florida De­part­ment of Vet­er­ans’ Af­fairs.

Trump had planned to travel to South Florida, too, for a Satur­day event at his Trump Na­tional Do­ral Mi­ami golf re­sort. But ac­cord­ing to a Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee spokesman, the event was can­celed this week­end be­cause Tropical Storm

Isaias is ap­proach­ing South­east Florida and the GOP did not want to take re­sources away from the area.

The post­pone­ment of an­other Sun­shine State event was the lat­est set­back for Trump in Florida, a state he nar­rowly won in 2016 but where polls con­sis­tently show the pre­sump­tive Demo­cratic nom­i­nee, Joe Bi­den, is ahead in the race. Trump last week called off the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion in Jack­sonville due to a surge in coro­n­avirus cases in the state.

Trump spent much of

2016 cam­paign­ing in the voter-rich stretch of Florida be­tween Pinel­las County and Or­lando known as the In­ter­state-4 cor­ri­dor. It’s an area that once again prom­ises to be a key bat­tle­ground in­side this swing state.

Trump launched his re­elec­tion bid from an Or­lando arena last year; Bi­den helped kick off his gen­eral elec­tion cam­paign with a vir­tual event “in” Tampa and he al­ready has a tele­vi­sion pres­ence in the lo­cal me­dia mar­ket thanks to an early advertisin­g blitz.

It’s Trump’s 45th visit to the state since tak­ing of­fice, ac­cord­ing to CBS White House cor­re­spon­dent Mark Knoller, though the pres­i­dent had hoped to re­turn to the Tampa Bay area sooner and in a much larger way. At the on­set of the pan­demic, Trump’s cam­paign had planned a Tampa rally that he ul­ti­mately nixed be­cause “I don’t want peo­ple dy­ing,” he told re­porters in the Oval Of­fice on March 12.

“We need a lit­tle sep­a­ra­tion un­til such time as it goes away,” Trump said then. “It’s go­ing to go away.”

Four months later, the virus is still here and the sit­u­a­tion is much worse. Nearly 7,000 peo­ple have died in Florida since Trump made that re­mark, and on Fri­day the state re­ported 257 new deaths, break­ing the pre­vi­ous high set Thurs­day.

Trump pre­dicted to his Tampa crowd that the coro­n­avirus would sub­side in 90 days, and at that time he could hug and kiss po­lice of­fi­cers again. Past pre­dic­tions like that have not come to pass.

Democrats al­leged Trump was putting his cam­paign ahead of Florid­i­ans by hold­ing a fundraiser in the mid­dle of a coro­n­avirus hot spot just as a hur­ri­cane was bear­ing down on the state.

“It’s very, very sad that Don­ald Trump is com­ing to Florida for a fundraiser, rather than com­ing to fig­ure out what we can do about this virus,” said Rep. Dianne Hart, D-Tampa.

An in­vi­ta­tion to Fri­day’s fundraiser at the Pel­i­can Golf Club ob­tained by the Tampa Bay Times showed donors could at­tend for $5,600. Two tick­ets and a photo could be had for $35,000. For $100,000, they could at­tend a round­table dis­cus­sion with the pres­i­dent.

The in­vi­ta­tion did not list lo­cal hosts or spon­sors of the event.

More than a hun­dred sup­port­ers of Trump gath­ered out­side the fences of Tampa In­ter­na­tional Air­port to watch Air Force One land. They wore Make Amer­ica Great Again hats and sought cover from the blis­ter­ing July mid­day sun un­der a few scat­tered trees be­fore they were let onto the tar­mac to greet the pres­i­dent.

It was the closet thing to a Trump rally the area has seen in a while — and may not see again.

PATRICK SEMANSKY AP

Sup­port­ers cheer as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump speaks dur­ing a cam­paign event with Florida sher­iffs in Tampa on Fri­day.

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