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Edward Lea  

Playground Pier on Atlantic City Boardwalk Monday Nov 25, 2019. Edward Lea Staff Photographer / Press of Atlantic City


Supporters of President Donald Trump fill the Wildwoods Convention Center on Tuesday. Chants of ‘four more years’ and ‘U-S-A’ were common.

Edward Lea / Staff photographer  

President Donald Trump, right, praises U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, on Tuesday during a rally at the Wildwoods Convention Center. Trump called Van Drew brave and principled for voting against impeachment charges.

Matthew Strabuk / For The Press  

On January 28th, 2020, at the Dr.Martin Luther King Jr. School complex in Atlantic City, the civil rights activist’s son Martin Luther King III visited a school assembly with NJ-2d Congressional candidate Amy Kennedy. Mr.King addressing the student body.

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Trump praises Van Drew in Wildwood campaign rally

WILDWOOD — As a capacity crowd inside the Wildwoods Convention Center shouted its approval, President Donald Trump showered praise on South Jersey congressman Jeff Van Drew on Tuesday, calling him brave and principled for voting against impeachment charges.

The rally comes a month after Van Drew, R-2nd, switched political parties and declared his support for the president.

Trump, who arrived at Atlantic City International Airport on Air Force One shortly before 6 p.m., then flew by helicopter to Cape May Airport, wasted little time once he took the stage inside the convention center.

He introduced Van Drew early in his nearly hour-and-a-half-long speech, saying Van Drew “had the guts to defy the left-wing fanatics in his (former) party.”

“I’ve gotten to know him really well these last couple of weeks. He’s a great guy, he’s a brave guy, he shares our values,” Trump said. “He supports lower taxes; they want to raise your taxes. Jeff, how did you get elected like that?”

Van Drew supports less regulation, a strong national defense, “loves our military, loves our vets and police ... and he loves your 2nd Amendment, which is under siege,” Trump said.

That brought huge applause, as did mention of Trump’s accomplishments, such as a historically low unemployment rate, tighter immigration controls and returning manufacturing to the U.S.

The crowd’s love of Trump was almost overwhelming at times, with applause breaking out every few sentences, and chants of “Four more years!” and “U-S-A! U-S-A!” peppering the talk.

Van Drew spoke briefly, to enthusiastic applause, especially when he said, “The eyes of the world are on South Jersey.”

“The U.S. is a great nation — the greatest civilization has ever known. Let’s keep it that way,” Van Drew said, “by restoring the military, protecting our economy and not letting other nations take advantage of us again.”

Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president and Atco native who helped woo Van Drew to the Republican Party, spoke a few words.

“Mr. President, I think South Jersey is Trump Country,” she said. “Two new trade deals, two Supreme Court justices, two dead terrorists — that’s two terms.”

Loud boos were reserved for mentions of illegal immigrants, Bernie Sanders, Democrats in general and late-term abortion, among other topics. Perhaps the loudest went out for “the fake news media,” as Trump pointed to reporters in the back of the hall.

Before the speeches started, thousands of people who had been waiting in line to get into the rally for hours — some for days — kept a party spirit going as they stood or sat around waiting for the main event.

Constant upbeat rock music by artists such as Kid Rock, Queen and Elton John helped keep the mood up.

“Two days, two days out there!” chanted Matthew Robinson, of the Manayunk section of Philadelphia, who was among the first to enter an almost empty hall and was attending his first Trump rally.

Robinson quickly secured a standing spot in front of the stage along with friend Pina Augustine, of Zieglerville, Pennsylvania.

Next to them also celebrating was Josh Smail, of Mays Landing, who said he’d previously been to two Trump rallies in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. They were set to spend four hours standing in one place to keep their prime spot — and they were happy about it.

Almost two hours before Trump took the stage, local Republicans had their chance to shine.

State Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, followed the opening prayer by leading the Pledge of Allegiance.

Newly elected state Sen. Michael Testa Jr., R-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, told the crowd he was honored to welcome Van Drew to “our team.”

“We are proud to have a new Republican congressman who is standing by President Trump, a congressman who stood up to a losing witch hunt,” Testa said of impeachment.

Testa’s biggest applause came after telling the crowd “New Jersey isn’t looking so blue now” and “Congressman Van Drew, welcome to the right side of history.”

And former Van Drew opponent David Richter, of Avalon and Princeton, talked about running now in the 3rd Congressional District.

“I’m going to throw Andy Kim out of Congress,” Richter said to strong applause, “and we are going to reelect our newest Republican Congressman Jeff Van Drew.”

Atlantic County Republican Chairman Keith Davis, of Linwood, joined a contingent of GOP members who rented several jitneys for the trip to Wildwood. He had T-shirts for all of them that said, “Atlantic County Republicans Support Trump and Van Drew.”

Davis’ parents, Pat and Herb; and sons Henry, 9, and Harrison, 13, came along. They were looking forward to seeing the president in person, Harrison said. And Henry was going to report back to his third grade teacher, Mrs. Hieb at the Seaview School in Linwood, about his experience.

“I’m pretty sure I’m the only kid going,” Henry said.

Erin Kimbrough, 37, of Avon-by-the-Sea in Monmouth County, said she and friends set up in line at 2 p.m. Monday. They took turns sleeping in a hotel room to get warm.

“This is the only thing that has ever inspired me to stay overnight and brave the elements like this,” Kimbrough said of her first Trump rally.

As soon as Trump stopped talking, the crowd started to disperse to the tune of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

She said Trump inspires her to love America.

“He made me a Republican,” Kimbrough said.

GALLERY: President Donald Trump visits Wildwood

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Outside the Wildwoods Convention Center, crowds keep up energy for Trump

WILDWOOD — Thousands of people took a chance with their Tuesday, standing outside the Wildwoods Convention Center in the cold in hopes of being let in to see President Donald Trump speak.

Enough people had showed up to fill the auditorium by early morning, according to some reports. The convention center has a capacity of 7,400.

Ed Pierce, 41, and his son Eddie, 15, of Upper Township, put the likelihood of getting in at 50/50. That was good enough for them to try.

“It’s something historic,” Ed said. “It’s not very often the president of the United States comes down to Cape May County.”

It is, indeed, rare.

But Trump’s rally, alongside U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who switched his party affiliation to Republican and vowed his undying loyalty to Trump, turned what is normally a ghost town in the winter into the teaming epicenter of the county, at least for a day.

“Keep America Great” flags flew high above the heads of hopeful attendees and draped some of their shoulders, as country music and promotional videos — touting the president’s First Amendment bona fides and deriding the critics who said he couldn’t win in 2016 — boomed across Ocean Avenue and the Boardwalk. Nearby, enterprising individuals sold Trump merchandise and soft pretzels.

At least one Trumpy Bear made the trip.

The followers who guaranteed their admission by getting to Wildwood and planting their flag in line Saturday and Sunday lacked some of the bright-eyed excitement of the hopeful newcomers. A long night in the cold and countless tedious hours had sapped it.

Two men near the front puffed their chests and exchanged words over some unclear conflict, but the situation was defused when one walked away. Turning the homestretch an hour before the doors opened at 3 p.m., however, moods lightened.

Maria Poalillo, 64, and her sister Toni Patacco, 54, of Totowa, Passaic County, claimed their spot in line Monday morning.

Poalillo said she was dragging, “but I know once I see him I’m gonna just spark all over again. I’m trying to save the energy, but it’s getting a little rough out here.”

Others made no attempt to get in. They already had a perch to take in the show.

Buddy Flick, 65, owns a condo on Atlantic Avenue, right across the street from Fox Park, where the tail end of the line stretched and a large monitor was in place to keep them juiced for the rally.

Flick, friends and family had been drinking beer, slow-cooking chili and barbecuing chicken from his deck since Monday and taking in the swarm of visitors who descended on their city.

“Everyone’s here,” Flick said. “We all took off work. ... Everyone’s having a good time. There’s no arguing. We haven’t seen anybody get rowdy.”

Vendors on foot took advantage of the influx of people just as much as brick-and-mortar businesses did.

Eric Lucas, 41, of Philadelphia, follows Trump to events around the country to make money. Lucas started selling soft pretzels and hand warmers at 11 p.m. Monday and got a few hours of sleep in his car. The pretzels were priced at one for $5 or three for $10, and he said he’d sold about 500 by Tuesday afternoon.

“I follow the president around,” Lucas said. “Like last Friday, I was in D.C. for the pro-life march. I’ll be going up to New Hampshire.”

T-shirts in the crowd bore messages such as “Where’s Hunter?”; “Blacks for Trump”; “Space Force”; and “Very Fake News.” A few attendees wore visors with a wave of yellow-orange hair in the style of the president. And, of course, there were plenty of red “Make America Great Again” hats.

The parameters of the line forced many to pack light or abandon their belongings. Discarded folding chairs littered the borders of the corrals along with trash and food wrappers.

But once inside, between chants of “U-S-A” and the occasional harassment of the media in the center of the space, the crowd took on a subdued, almost sleepy quality. There were still hours to wait before Trump would make his way to the seaside city to take the podium.

Those at the front of the line felt their patience would be rewarded with a chance to say they saw Trump.

Doug Swietanski, 71, and his wife, Elaine, 75, of West Deptford, Gloucester County, flew up from their daughter’s home in Florida for the rally because they missed a Trump rally down there.

Being with other Trump supporters made Swietanski feel victorious.

“I’m glad I’m on the winning team. I know I’m on the winning team. I’m definitely on the winning team,” he said. “It’s good to win.”

GALLERY: President Donald Trump visits Wildwood