Crowds gather ahead of Trump rally in Rochester

October 4, 2018

ROCHESTER, Minn. Hundreds of people lined up outside Mayo Civic Center in a chilly breeze Thursday morning for a chance to see President Donald Trump at an evening campaign rally.

T.J. Jergenson, 65, a retiree from Alexandria, Minn., left home at midnight for the long drive. He snagged a spot a few hundred people back in line.

We need to support our president, Jergenson said. Hes a businessman. He knows where to spend money and where not to.

The crowd was lively and festive. Some brought chairs and coolers for the wait. We want Trump cheers broke out sporadically and the song Macho Man was part of the soundtrack. There was a YMCA singalong.

Several vendors were selling T-shirts and buttons. Trump 2020 was a hot seller.

Its history is how John Gordon described why he drove from Ellendale, Minn., to be part of the throng. I just want to hear what hes got to say. Gordon, 60, works at an Owatonna glass business.

The only visible presence of a protest was a woman carrying a sign that read Be best. Stop the bullying. However, three local groups did organize a rally and march to counter Trumps message, making a point of holding it far from the Civic Center and ending it before Air Force Ones arrival at Rochester International Airport.

Our goal is very specifically not to be confrontational, said Heidi Wilkins, a co-founder of Rochester for Justice.

Participants will meet at noon at Soldiers Memorial Field Park, march through downtown and return to the park.

Were in a city of healing, Wilkins said. We dont have time for the rhetoric of hate and division.

Just before noon, a PA announcement sounded outside the Civic Center. It warned people in the crowd not to touch protesters and to instead surround them and chant Trump, Trump, Trump until they can be removed. Then it starting playing excerpts from past public remarks by Trump.

The Republican president is the star attraction at the rally scheduled for 6:30 p.m. He is stopping first in the Twin Cities for a private Republican fundraiser at a metro-area hotel, with Air Force One scheduled to land at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport at 2:30 p.m. After that, the presidential plane will fly from Minneapolis to Rochester.

Rochester is the largest city in the First Congressional District, where Republican Jim Hagedorn is running against Democrat Dan Feehan for the seat thats being vacated by U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, the Democratic candidate for governor. Trumps visit is meant as a boost to Hagedorns campaign, as he tries to pick up a district that went for Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Other Republican candidates will be in Rochester to share in Trumps spotlight. Minnesotas special election for the U.S. Senate and a handful of contested congressional races could end up key as Democrats try to overturn Republican majorities in the U.S. House and Senate.

The DFL Party also plans counterprogramming. Candidates including Feehan and Peggy Flanagan, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, will fire up volunteers who plan to knock on voters doors Thursday in Rochester.

Rather than protesting the presidents visit, said DFL spokesman George Flynn, weve decided to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Good Jobs Nation, a group that promotes union employment, plans to be outside the Civic Center with workers who face layoffs because of the outsourcing of jobs.

Were prepared for both [Trump] supporters as well as those protesting, said Steve Rymer, Rochesters city administrator.

Streets will be closed around the Civic Center and public transit will be free. The Rochester Public Library, City Hall and Government Center are within the security perimeter in the area around the rally site and will close at 3 p.m.

Temporary flight restrictions could cause airport delays. Trump will depart Minnesota after the rally.

Trump last appeared in Minnesota at a June 20 roundtable and rally in Duluth. At that rally, he predicted that he would carry Minnesota in the 2020 presidential election after narrowly losing it to Clinton in 2016.

Cheryl Ortega, 43, got in line at 5:15 a.m. I just wanted to come and see the president, she said. He fights for the people. Shes from Fairmont.

Dennis Posts daughter and grandchildren saved him a place in line so he could finish morning chores at his dairy farm in Mazeppa, Minn.

Hes our guy, Post, 62, said. Hes making good on his promises.

Judy Keen 612-673-4234

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