Sandwiched between thousands of supporters, Jennie Hardy gripped a bright pink “Women for Trump” sign and waited for the man she credits with putting her son, a diesel mechanic, back to work.
“I’m excited to see President Donald Trump,” said Hardy, a Fairfield, California, resident and retired insurance agent. “He wants individuals to do well. We see ‘help wanted’ signs everywhere.”
Hardy traveled more than 500 miles and waited nearly four hours to attend Trump’s “Make America Great Again” rally Thursday at the Las Vegas Convention Center. She waved her sign excitedly as Trump took the stage with “God Bless America” blaring through the speakers.
Trump smiled widely, tossed “Make America Great” hats into the crowd of an estimated 8,000 people, pointed at supporters and applauded before giving an hour-long speech that focused on energizing his base and urging them to the polls for the Nov. 6 election.
“You can vote early, but you have to get out there and vote,” Trump urged the crowd.
He stumped for Republican congressional candidates Cresent Hardy and Danny Tarkanian — who both spoke before Trump arrived — and invited Sen. Dean Heller to the stage.
“We weren’t friends. I didn’t like him, he didn’t like me,” Trump said, adding that they “fought and fought” before they grew to “like” and eventually “love” one another.
Heller is locked in a re-election fight with Democratic U.S. Rep. Jacky Rosen. Heller credited the president with supporting the state’s veterans and “putting Nevada back to work.”
Trump supporters said the president’s speech was invigorating — especially when he touted the country’s low unemployment rate and booming stock market.
“We have a president who represents the people and not the politicians in Washington,” said Carl Dexter, 58, a real estate entrepreneur from Sacramento, California. He said his “liberal” friends criticize him for supporting Trump because he’s black. But, Dexter said, Trump has “been fair to everyone.”
Outside the convention center, about 100 activists gathered to protest Trump’s policies and his Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who has been accused of sexual assault.
Annette Magnus, executive director of the progressive communications group Battle Born Progress, said the protest was also against Heller and Attorney General Adam Laxalt, the Republican candidate for governor.
“They are rubber stamps for this administration,” Magnus said.
Magnus said the protesters left before the rally ended to avoid a confrontation. A group of Trump supporters shouted obscenities at reporters after the rally, echoing Trump’s references to “fake news” during his speech.
Separately a group of about a dozen protesters gathered outside the East Las Vegas Community Center, at the corner of Eastern and Stewart avenues, to decry Trump’s treatment of Puerto Ricans in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria one year ago.
“FEMA didn’t do the job they way they should have,” said Margarita Rebollal, a Puerto Rico native who moved to Las Vegas in 1996 and has been active in politics ever since.
The event also served as a fundraiser to help those still on the island, many of whom still don’t have basic services like electricity, Rebollal said.
The rally Thursday was Trump’s seventh trip to Nevada since announcing his candidacy in June 2015, and his second Silver State stop this year. He also spoke at the state Republican party convention in June.
Tarkanian and Hardy — who are running for open House seats held by Democrats — urged attendees to vote in the critical midterms. Hardy stumped for Heller, a man he called a mentor and a friend.
Tarkanian said Nevada has created 55,000 new jobs since Trump won the presidency.
Laxalt warned voters that Nevada could turn into California if the GOP loses key races.