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Schools, party leaders, protesters making plans for Trump’s Tuesday visit

The president might have gone to Orlando, but Hillsborough's GOP chair made a convincing argument that the bay area is politically important.
Retired Air Force Col. James Waurishuk, right, shown here watching ta presidential debate in Valrico, is spearheading President Trump's visit to Tampa on Tuesday as chairman of the county Republican Party. [Times files (2016)]
Published Jul. 26, 2018
Updated Jul. 27, 2018

TAMPA — Days before President Donald Trump is scheduled to land at Tampa International Airport, the prep work for a presidential visit has kicked into high gear.

Local GOP leaders are picking a delegation to greet Trump on the tarmac.

Workers are painting and pressure washing at Tampa Bay Technical High School, where Trump will visit first Tuesday afternoon for a roundtable talk on career and technical education.

Supporters are scooping up tickets to a night-time campaign rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds, where the president will seize the chance to stump in a bellwether county in one of the state's biggest media markets.

Protesters are ordering Trump baby balloons and checking out places to demonstrate.

At three-by-two feet, the "Trump Baby" balloons are much smaller than the 20-foot tall Trump balloon featured in a London rally in mid-July. Several activists planning to demonstrate at Tuesday's rally have ordered the balloons. [Courtesy of Mad Dog Pac]
At three-by-two feet, the “Trump Baby” balloons are much smaller than the 20-foot tall Trump balloon featured in a London rally in mid-July. Several activists planning to demonstrate at Tuesday’s rally have ordered the balloons. [Courtesy of Mad Dog Pac]
And though they won’t talk much about it, local authorities are working with the Secret Service to devise a plan to safely escort Trump across town, tackle rush-hour traffic, and manage the volatile dynamic that accompanies a polarizing presidency.

"I understand that not everyone is a supporter of President Trump," said Marion Nuraj, a 24-year-old Trump supporter who already has his rally tickets, "so I definitely expect to see people on both sides."

•••

Trump's visit fulfills a promise he made when he called into a Hillsborough County GOP fundraising dinner in May and told the audience he would hold an event in Tampa "very soon."

Hillsborough County Republican Party Chairman Jim Waurishuk said the roots of the visit date to 2016 when he advised Trump during his campaign. A retired Air Force colonel, Waurishuk said he was the first retired military officer in Florida to endorse Trump and has been in close contact with White House political affairs staff since Trump took office.

Waurishuk's message to the White House: "You've got to come to Tampa. Hillsborough is a politically important place."

He said he proposed Trump supplement his visit to Tampa Bay Tech with a political rally. Waurishuk was working this week to assemble a contingent of local Republican officials to greet the president on the tarmac.

It was still unclear Thursday when Trump will arrive at Tampa International on Tuesday. Authorities are always tight-lipped for security reasons about travel, and on Thursday, local agencies and the Secret Service said they would give no details.

But the times and locations of Trump's appearances provide commuters some dots to connect in figuring the traffic impact.

Workers were busy adding concrete to long withered gardens at Tampa Bay Technical High School on Thursday in preparation for President Donald Trump's visit next week. The president plans to hold a roundtable discussion that will focus on career and technical education. [Tim Fanning | Times]
Workers were busy adding concrete to long withered gardens at Tampa Bay Technical High School on Thursday in preparation for President Donald Trump’s visit next week. The president plans to hold a roundtable discussion that will focus on career and technical education. [Tim Fanning | Times]
The roundtable talk at Tampa Bay Tech on Orient Road, just north of Interstate 4, begins at 5 p.m. That means Trump’s motorcade will likely be traveling west to east across town as commuters are gearing up for rush hour.

The rally at the fairgrounds, near the junction of U.S. 301 and Interstate 4 just two miles south of the high school, starts at 7 p.m. Doors of the Expo Hall open at 4 p.m.

•••

Tampa Bay Tech has been working hard ahead of its moment in the national spotlight.

Generators buzzed, pressure washers sprayed and workers were busy applying fresh coats of paint to hallways and the front of the building. Construction workers filled long-dead gardens uprooted days before. Football practice Tuesday was rescheduled and a school district budget hearing was moved to Wednesday.

"It's a really big deal," said principal Michael Ippolito.

Tampa Bay Tech is a top Florida career and technical education school, district officials said. Students there recorded the district's highest high school graduation rate last year at 97.6 percent.

It was still unclear Thursday who will attend the roundtable talk. Jeff Eakins, Hillsborough County schools superintendent, said school leaders hoped to see open invitations for educators, business leaders and students at Tampa Bay Tech. Officials expect to hear from the White House in a few days.

"We're excited to have the president come to see how we're preparing our students for the workforce," Eakins said. "It gives us an opportunity to show off what's happening at the ground level here at our schools."

•••

Trump is known to speak off the cuff at his rallies, but his campaign said in a statement this week that he's expected to touch on "economic data from the booming Trump economy," his nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and the importance of voting in key Florida races to support his agenda.

The statement name-dropped Republican Gov. Rick Scott, running to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, and gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, who surged ahead of primary opponent Adam Putnam in the polls with Trump's endorsement.

Michael Hanlon, 24, a student at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, got his tickets through the Tampa Bay Young Republicans Facebook page soon after the rally was announced. A registered Republican, he has seen Trump twice before.

"I made an investment by voting for him and that's allowed me to explore more options for my future," Hanlon said. "With some of his tax cuts, I'm now exploring my options on whether to open a small business after I graduate."

As supporters like Hanlon are filing into the Expo Hall, demonstrators will be stationed across a grassy parking lot in what state fair officials call a First Amendment Activities Zone, said Christine Hanna, founder of progressive activist group Indivisible Action Tampa Bay.

The group is a branch of the national Indivisible organization, and members from other like-minded groups are expected to show up, Hanna said.

"We want to give him a reception that rivals the one he got in London," said Hanna, referring to the thousands of protesters who crammed the streets of the English city in mid-July and flew a large "Baby Trump" balloon.

Indivisible members ordered several three-by-two-foot "Trump baby" balloons from Mad Dog Pac, a political action committee based in Odenton, Md. But Claude Taylor, chair of the PAC, said the balloons won't arrive in time.

"Oh well, that's too bad," Hanna said when she found out. "But we will have them on hand for the next event."

Waurishuk is betting on it. He said he hopes the presidential visit will be the first of many before the 2020 presidential election, and that White House political staffers have told him they plan to pour resources into Hillsborough. The county went to Hillary Clinton by 41,000 votes in 2016.

The schedule:

Afternoon: President Trump lands at Tampa International Airport

5 p.m.: Attends roundtable talk on career and technical education at Tampa Bay Technical High School. Invitation list pending. Closed to general public.

7 p.m.: Appears at a "MAGA Rally" in the Expo Hall of he Florida State Fairgrounds, 4800 U.S. Highway 301 N. Parking gates open 2 p.m., hall doors 4 p.m. Access via gates on U.S. 301 and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

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