TAMPA — More than 15,000 fired-up Donald Trump fans turned out Monday night to cheer on the presidential nominee heading into the final two weeks of the campaign.
"Make sure you get out and vote — or this whole movement that they're all talking about throughout the world, it won't be the same, folks. We're not going to do what we want to do," Trump told the thunderous crowd at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, on the first day of early, in-person voting in Florida.
"I'm asking you to dream big — remember we used to dream big? — and imagine all the amazing things we can do for our country," said Trump, interrupted several times with chants of "USA! USA!" and, when he spoke of "Crooked Hillary" Clinton, "Lock her up! Lock her up!"
"Real change begins with fixing our rigged and broken system."
Another 1,000 people were not allowed into the packed venue, according to a Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office official.
Trump railed against the media and the political establishment, even as leaders of Florida's political establishment warmed up the crowd for him.
"It's gut-check time. It's the fourth quarter, and the game is literally tied," said Florida GOP chairman Blaise Ingoglia of Spring Hill, making a rare appearance at a Florida Trump rally.
Attorney General Pam Bondi, an early Trump supporter who has steered clear of Trump events in recent months, had the crowd repeating after her, "Eight years is enough!" and noted that she voted Monday for Trump.
Even ex-Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden, an avid Republican, made an appearance that drew the familiar FSU chant. He told the crowd he worried about the condition of America's military and applauded Trump for promising to build it up.
"I love his slogan," Bowden said. "I love what he said about making America great again."
Florida is Trump's second home, and he has little chance of winning the White House without the state's 29 electoral votes.
The average of recent polls compiled by RealClearPolitics.com shows Clinton leading the Sunshine State by nearly 4 percentage points, but the giant crowd for Trump in Tampa on Monday night underscored how much more enthusiastic his supporters are than Clinton's. She is scheduled to hold a rally at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park in downtown Tampa on Wednesday, but she rarely draws more than a few thousand people.
Already more than 1.2 million Floridians have cast ballots by mail, 41.7 percent of them Republicans and 40 percent Democrats. At this point four years ago, Republicans had a mail ballot advantage of about 5 percentage points, though President Barack Obama went on to beat Mitt Romney in Florida by less than 1 percentage point.
"I don't believe the polls; I think it's going amazing," said Richard Deleva, who attended the rally wearing a "Deplorable Lives Matter" T-shirt referencing Clinton's comment that half of Trump's supporters are "deplorables."
A surgical tech who lives in New Tampa, Deleva said many Trump supporters are wary of openly supporting him because they fear violence and ridicule, but he believes they will turn out to vote.
Trump had some extra ammunition Monday to attack Clinton and the direction of the country, including the announcement that average premiums under the Affordable Care Act will rise 25 percent in most of the country.
"It's over for Obamacare," Trump said, promising his own plan would provide "great health care at a fraction of the cost."
He also pounced on news that the political organization of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a close friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton, gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to the campaign of the wife of an FBI official who later helped oversee the investigation into Secretary Clinton's email use.
"Our system is rigged," Trump said several times over his 40-minute speech. "She never had a chance of being convicted even though everybody in this audience — and boy do we have a lot of people — everybody here knows she is 100 percent guilty. … The best evidence that the system is rigged is the fact that Hillary Clinton, despite her many crimes, was even allowed to run for president in the first place."
The crowd chanted "Lock her up!" just as loudly as they jeered "dishonest" journalists at the event when Trump accused them of hiding the size of his crowd. The media, he said, is looking down on hard-working Americans who don't share their elitist views.
"Trump's no saint, but I don't care what's in his past. I care about the future. I'm 78, but I have grandchildren who are going to live with the direction this country goes," said George Nauck, a retiree from Sun City Center. "Hillary Clinton is on board with globalism. She's the establishment, and the Republican and Democratic establishment have let America down."
Some of the biggest cheers came when Trump said what he would do as soon as he took office: Halt all hiring on nonessential federal employees, push for congressional term limits, withdraw from and renegotiate trade deals including NAFTA, declare China a currency manipulator, halt all spending on climate change programs, and restrict executive branch and congressional staffers from moving into lobbying.
"The forgotten men and women won't be forgotten anymore. I see you, I hear you, and I will never let you down, I promise," Trump told the exuberant crowd. "I will fight harder for you than anyone has ever fought before. And I will win, because I know how to win."
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