WILDWOOD, N.J. (AP) — Winter typically leaves many parts of New Jersey’s shore deserted, complete with blinking traffic lights and shuttered boardwalk shops, but President Donald Trump’s rally for Rep. Jeff Van Drew jolted Wildwood to life Tuesday, with rally-goers flocking to the seaside resort.
Vendors propped pop-up tents along the boards and main roads near the oceanfront convention center, hawking all kinds of memorabilia, from red “Make America Great Again” hats to socks depicting the president, complete with a Trump-like tuft of hair sprouting at calf-height. Bars and restaurants overflowed with patrons wearing hats with the president’s signature slogan.
“In Wildwood, we are in the middle of winter. There’s nobody in the middle of winter,” Trump said during the rally. But “those streets are packed,” he added.
Rally-goers, some arriving as early as the weekend, stood in a line that snaked through part of the town. The mood among supporters was one of camaraderie.
Denise Hayes came from Flemington, New Jersey, early Tuesday. She said she had been an independent until 2016 when Trump persuaded her to become a Republican in part because of his truth-telling tone. But she said she typically doesn’t bring up politics with people because Trump’s detractors sometimes don’t tolerate his policies.
“It’s really good to see all the support,” she said from a bench, sitting while another supporter held her spot in line. “I’m just looking forward to all the energy in the room.”
Other Trump backers were eager to make pleas to any fence-sitting independents, or unhappy Democrats.
Fred Conteh, an engineer from Morganville, New Jersey, immigrated to the United States in 2000 from Sierra Leone in West Africa. Conteh said he’s a Democrat and implored voters to consider the economy when heading to the ballot box in November. He wore a Trump scarf and a pin that said “CNN sucks.”
“I’m a registered Democrat, but I believe in common sense politics so that’s why I’m supporting Donald J. Trump,” he said.
Trump’s rally at the more than 7,000-person-capacity convention center came the same day his attorneys wrapped up their impeachment defense in the Senate and as a show of support for Van Drew, who left the Democratic Party last month over his opposition to impeachment.
The 2nd District, which Van Drew represents, covers all or part of eight counties in southern New Jersey, and voted for Trump in 2016 after earlier backing Barack Obama. New Jersey is a reliably Democratic state in presidential elections.
Van Drew, who Trump brought up to the podium, said the president asked what he could do to help and Van Drew told him he could hold a rally for him.
The freshman congressman embraced Trump and lavished praise on him, calling the president “a man who kept his word to ensure that the eyes of the world are in South Jersey and all of us.”
Democrats and their allies held a counter-rally just off the boardwalk, though they we’re outnumbered by Trump backers who heckled them.
Wildwood in Cape May County is known for its wide beaches, amusement-lined boardwalk and many colorful motels. Its noted trolley-like people-mover, the tram-car, wasn’t running along the boardwalk as it typically does in summer, when the city’s population swells from 90,000 to about 670,000.