7 p.m.: After Tampa Bay Tech, his motorcade will arrive for a “MAGA Rally” in the Expo Hall of the Florida State Fairgrounds, 4800 U.S. Highway 301 N. Parking gates open 1 p.m., hall doors 4 p.m. Access via gates on U.S. 301 and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Parking is $6 per car, cash only.
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Florida State Fairground event center
A near capacity crowd of about 5,000 gathered inside the Florida State Fairground event center, abuzz with optimism about Trump’s presidency. Lines from speakers about how Trump is a “fighter” who’s been faced with a tough “opposition” in the form of obstructionist Democrats and the “fake news media” drew raucous applause.
Most of the crowd, which consisted mainly of families with children and elderly couples, was decked out in American flag gear, or Trump-branded apparel — or both. Like nearly all Trump crowds, Tuesday’s Tampa audience was vocal, unafraid to burst into prompted and unprompted chants of “USA” or “CNN SUCKS” or “BUILD THAT WALL.”
Between speakers, attendees bobbed their heads to the classic rock soundtrack, took selfies and chatted with their neighbors.
Although the audience trickled in for hours ahead of President Trump’s speech, the vast majority of the crowd was seated by the time the master of ceremonies, Hillsborough County GOP Chair Jim Waurishuk, introduced the first speakers at about 6 p.m.
Protesters and rally-goers meet in Tampa
As Trump supporters discover they can't get in, they're making their way to the protest in the First Amendment Zone.
“We just want to hear what the other side have to say,” said Kristin Panozzo, 22, of Tampa. “We’re disappointed that we can’t see Trump, but that’s all right. We’re here.”
Here's what the Fairgrounds are serving during the Trump rally— Langston Taylor (@LangstonITaylor) July 31, 2018
Dippin Donuts $5/dozen
Chicken Tender Boat $9
Hot Dog $4
and the cheapest...
!!!!!!! MONSTER $1!!!!!!!
Scenes from the Rally
‘America is never … a land for hate'
Sam Sharf, Parisa Akbarpour and other students who were local leaders of the post-Parkland gun control movement, led a protest up Harney Road.
“America is never, I mean never, a land for hate,” Sharf said.
‘He’s popular, just look around you.'
Matthew Nichols lost a lot of friends after then candidate Trump announced that he would run for the White House. From spats on social media to a few confrontations in school, the 17-year-old Sickles High School senior held his ground. Now, nearly three years later, he’s doing everything he can to encourage more young people to support a president that is widely unpopular with young people.
"We are a silent minority," he said. "When they walked out to protest our gun rights, I sat in class. I followed the rules because I'm in school to learn, not to protest."
Nichols now volunteers with friend Michael Resina, also 17. He's a senior at Land O' Lakes High School. Both wore American Flag bandannas around their heads and held signs.
One said, "Buy American, hire American."
They handed them to the curious with a smile. Nichols wore a "Make America Great Again" cape around his neck.
“We’re here to support the president and to show that there are lots of people who do as well,” Nichols said. “Don’t believe what you read online. He’s popular, just look around you. There’s a lot of people here.”
-Tim Fanning, @TimothyJFanning
‘At least we know what we’re getting.’
TAMPA — Wringing out a sodden “Make America Great Again” T-shirt, Terri Johnson looked at the young man holding a black Trump T-shirt whose credit card had just been declined.
“Do you have another card?" she asked.
Johnson, 30, set up her merchandize stall outside a gas station on U.S. 301 across from the Florida Fairgrounds. The sudden rain shower was seeping through holes in folding canopy.
She got into merchandise sales during the 2016 Presidential Election campaign on the advice of a friend. Now, the Georgia resident follows Trump around the country whenever he schedules a rally. The “Trump 2020 Make America Great Again” and “Straight out of Trump Tower” T-shirts she sells she prints herself onto blank T-shirts that she sells for $20.
Johnson never got to vote in the 2016 General Election because she was working a merchandise stall. She’s not sure she supports the President but said she might if he delivers on his promises. She said she’s not uncomfortable selling T-shirts that support a president that critics have accused of stirring up racial intolerance.
“We’ve all said some crazy stuff,” she said. “A lot of people don’t say what they’re thinking. At least he does. At least we know what we’re getting.”
-Chris O’Donnell, @codonnell_Times
‘I hope this message shines through’
A group, organized by Tampa Bay Tech students, is gearing up to march towards the school in protest. “While I won’t be able to vote in 2020,” said rising sophomore Adolfo Mendoza, 15. “I hope this message shines through.”
-Bre Bradham, @BreBradham
‘Your Tweets are are for the birds!’
The Tweety bird costume had been shelved since Mimi Pike, 66, first used it at a march in Washington the day after Trump was elected.
But when the retired educator heard he was coming to Tampa, she broke it back out.
“It was a good day to get Tweety back on the road,” Pike said, standing in front of Tampa Bay Technical High School with sign in hand.
Next to Pike stood her friend Diane Rodriguez, 72, cloaked in a Statue of Liberty costume. The pair were parading next to the road as the rain came down.
“We’re thoroughly disgusted with the administration,” Rodriguez said. Separating children from their parents—a “humanitarian crime,” Rodriguez said—was the final line.
Rodriguez taught at Tampa Bay Technical High school from around 2010 to 2012, she said, helping students earn their GED’s in night classes. Trump “walking these halls as a photo-op on vocational education” was enough to spur the retired educator into action.
-Bre Bradham, @BreBradham
Shopping with his son
Jim Kilborn, who drove to Trump rally from Lakeland, shows Trump merchandise to his son Tripp Kilborn, 7. “Regardless of your politics, it’s an honor and privilege to see the President speak,” he said. “I’m getting him involved. As he grows up, he can be an informed citizen.”
-Chris O’Donnell, @codonnell_Times
Rain begins to fall
Around 2 p.m., as the the parking lots crowded with hundreds of cars, as the disappeared behind clouds and began to spit rain, Fairground officials opened the ticket window.
In a mob, the crowd bolted to the front of the line, some holding hands to keep from being separated. As thunder rolled in, and rain began to fall, umbrellas opened and people huddled beneath them.
Some chanted, others sang the National Anthem.
Huddled beneath an umbrella was Shawn Float and son Arden Taylor, 17, from Clearwater.
As the rain pattered down on her umbrella, Float talked about the importance of coming together for change.
"I wanted to come today because the media doesn't show how much of us there really are," said Float, who is principal at Washburn Academy. She and several of her coworkers took a vacation today to see the president.
"They also don't show just how peaceful and loving we all are," she said.
Float, who is in her 50s, said this year was the first in a long time she’s felt confident enough to save for her retirement.
-Tim Fanning, @TimothyJFanning
‘He’s my man now’
Jim McLoughlin, 71, sported Republican party socks and a American flag lapel pin complete with an elephant insignia as he waited along with a handful of other volunteers to enter the Tampa Bay Technical High School event.
Many of the volunteers sported red Hillsborough Country Republican Committee polos, one woman donning a bright white “Make America Great Again.” Another woman wore a pink “Trump” hat.
McLoughlin, a member of the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee, was not always a Trump supporter. He said that Trump was not his first choice in the primary, but that the president has blown his expectations out of the water.
“He’s my man now,” McLoughlin said. “I hope we have six more years of him.”
As the volunteers waited outside the chain link fence to be let into the school, McLoughlin said that he does not understand why the Democratic party feels the need to divide people into groups. Trump is more inclusive, he said, even though the president may not always speak clearly.
But Marilyn Messina, 76, responded that she appreciates the president’s vernacular.
“I like that he speaks on a level where everybody understands him,” Messina said. It’s not necessary to “parse” his words, she said.
For both Messina and McLoughlin, the high school event will be the first time they have been in this close proximity to Trump since he became president.
-Bre Bradham, @BreBradham
'He’s my hero’
Ron Renaud, 59, and his Ray, 28, sat on an old, rusted oil barrel beneath an oak tree not far from the line of hundreds of Trump supporters lined up outside Expo Hall. Spanish moss swayed in the breeze and Renaud, a Daytona business owner, took off his red Make America Great Again hat to wipe the sweat off his brow.
“Boy, I’m exhausted,” he said.
He and his son began the two-hour drive from Daytona around midnight, arriving sometime after 2 a.m. It was worth it, though.
“He’s my hero,” Renaud said of Donald Trump. “There’s my parents, my good friends — but I never thought I’d drive all night to see anybody. He’s special.”
Renaud owns a vacation rental business and since Trump took office, business is booming. Customers are renting, he said, because the economy is good and people have money. Wages at his business have also increased, he said, jumping from $15 an hour to about $20.
He said he came to the rally today because he wanted to hear from Rob DeSantis, who Trump has endorsed for governor.
“We know about the Donald, now we want to hear from Ron,” he said. “We want the legacy of a great economy and a tough stance on illegal immigration to stay alive. A Democrat in charge won’t do that.”
Out beyond the oak tree, the crowd grew larger. The sun beat down hard on those who waited. The lucky ones stood beneath umbrellas and tents. Others rushed over to the merchandise tent to buy $25 MAGA hats. Some kicked their feet up on folding chairs and sipped Coke. Others wrapped themselves in American flags or Trump/Pence for President flags.
David Sumner, 54, and A.J. Walker, 35, stood outside in the heat. In about 10 minutes, they were already in a good place in line. They’ve been neighbors in Wesley Chapel for five years.
“We came because Big D is in the house,” Sumner said.
Sumner, who is a landscaper, said the heat doesn’t bother him.
“I work in it every day,” he said. "And it’s worth it because we’re out here standing in the heat for democracy. We’re standing and sweating because there are folks who are no longer here to stand and sweat for freedom.
- Tim Fanning
Trump supporters arrive for rally overnight, camp outside Fairgrounds
TAMPA — It had the feel of a college-football tailgate.
As early as 7 a.m. Tuesday morning, a string of about 30 parked cars sat empty along U.S. 301 outside of the Florida State Fairgrounds' main entrance, their drivers sitting together in lawn chairs, drinking soda, chanting and singing, all while donning red, white and blue.
But this wasn’t a fall Saturday in a college town. This was a gloomy summer morning in Tampa, and kickoff isn’t until 7 p.m., when President Trump is scheduled to host a rally inside the Fairgrounds' Expo Hall.Trump isn’t scheduled to land in Tampa until 5 p.m., but his most ardent supporters have no problem waiting.
- Current and former students at Tampa Bay Technical High plan to demonstrate starting at 3 p.m. at the school campus.
- A largely anti-Trump "Move Together' protest at the Florida State Fairgrounds. It’s open to the public.
- At the fairgrounds, Trump is 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.
- Expect appearances by 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.
- Jeff Greene, Democratic candidate for governor, has scrapped planned campaign events in St. Petersburg and Tampa to join the fairgrounds protest.
- The National Weather Service calls for persistent showers and afternoon thunderstorms with temperatures in the mid-70s. Check our live interactive radar for where the storms are headed.
A word from the ACLU about Trump’s high school visit
Not everyone is happy about the welcome the Hillsborough County School District is giving President Trump today as he prepares to hold a round-table discussion about career education at Tampa Bay Technical High School. This statement came from Jennifer Morley, a former district employee who is now president of the Greater Tampa chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Fresh from candidates meeting, Trump backers from The Villages boarding bus for rally
Villagers for Trump, a pro-Trump activist group from The Villages community north of Orlando, donned their Make America Great Again Hats on Tuesday to board a bus for President Donald Trump’s rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds.
“We’re hoping for a whole bus load full of wholesome Villagers going to see our president,” David Gee, said founder of Villagers for Trump, which represents Lake, Marion and Sumter counties.
The rally at the fairgrounds, near U.S. 301 and Interstate 4 just two miles south of the high school, is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Doors of the Expo Hall open at 4 p.m.
Gee said the group chartered a bus that holds 56 people from the Villages Transport Co. and has been busy planning for the rally for weeks. At $25 per person, the bus was sold out.
The bus was scheduled to depart at 2 p.m., which gives members plenty of time to recover from a Monday night meeting featuring Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis as a keynote speaker, Gee said.
Also attending the meeting were U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, Florida House District 33 candidate Brett Hage and Agriculture Commissioner candidate Mike McCalister.
Webster was expected to discuss “the deep state within and attacks on President Trump,” according to the organization’s website.
“All my energy has been focused on preparing this event,” Gee said Monday. “Tomorrow, though, is going to be a walk in the park.”
Meanwhile, Agriculture Commissioner and Republican candidate for governor Adam Putnam is holding a veterans event in the Villages today.
- Tim Fanning