WILDWOOD — The stretch of Boardwalk in front of the Convention Center was eerily still and unusually quiet Tuesday morning.

But in just less than three weeks, the crowds and noise will rival or dwarf that of the busiest summer nights.

President Donald J. Trump will be in town Jan. 28 for a rally with newly Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, the announcement of which came days after a Democrat was sworn in as mayor.

Pete Byron took over the office Thursday from friend-turned-opponent Ernie Troiano, a Republican and native son of Wildwood who kept a Trump wine bottle and Make America Great Again hat in his City Hall office.

But Byron is no less enthused about the rally. This month’s visit from Trump will mark the first time a sitting president has visited Cape May County since Benjamin Harrison made a public appearance in Cape May City in 1891, Byron said.

“As much as I know this is a political rally, I’m looking at it as mayor of this great town, and I think this just transcends whether you’re a Republican or Democrat,” Byron said. “I think I’m looking at it as what a confidence-builder this will be for Wildwood, being the amazing place that it is.”

The tourist resort, a longtime favorite of vacationing Philadelphians known for its trademark 1950s doo-wop architecture and retro vibe, will be in the national spotlight for a night, less than a week before the first primary of 2020.

Wildwood voted for Donald Trump in 2016, 860 to 779, voting records show. The Wildwoods — including North Wildwood, West Wildwood and Wildwood Crest — voted for Trump 3,541 to 2,107.

The city is poorer than the county, with some 27% of residents living below the poverty line as opposed to about 10% countywide. And the city is more diverse than the rest of the county, too, despite its reputation as a white and conservative stronghold. Just 66% of the city is white, compared with about 86% countywide.

Opinions on the Trump-Van Drew rally expressed Tuesday show there is diversity of thought in Wildwood, too.

Some have their tickets already, while protests are being organized on Facebook.

Mary Ann Hill, a retired English teacher who moved to North Wildwood last month from Pottstown, Pennsylvania, called Trump a misogynist Tuesday morning while jogging the Boardwalk with her 1½-year-old border collie, Simone.

“People say we should welcome everyone no matter what. But I don’t necessarily respect him because, as a woman, I find him insulting,” Hill said. “I have a feeling my daughter’s gonna join the protest group and come down. I’m torn because I might have something better to do. ... Because people who are Trumpers have their heels dug in and they’re never gonna change.”

Sue Ann Casey, 71, a “barmaid” at American Legion Post 184 on Atlantic Avenue, said she and her family have already secured tickets for the event. She said Van Drew has been great for veterans over the years and she was happy about his decision to switch parties last month.

Casey hopes Van Drew can leverage federal funds to repair the Boardwalk, she said. She expects a huge turnout at the rally.

“It says (the Convention Center) holds 7,000,” Casey said. “So, yeah, I’m expecting a lot.”

If event postings on Facebook like the “Trump Rally Pre Game Happy Hour” — which starts at 11 a.m. at Dogtooth Bar & Grill on Taylor Avenue but is not hosted by the restaurant — are any indication, supporters will bring a party atmosphere to the rally.

Countering that energy are planned protests like “Trump: You Are Not Welcome Here!” and the “Defeat Trump and Van Drew Too Rally.”

Most people here have tamer takes on both Trump and Van Drew.

Angelo Bilios, 35, owner of Bagel Time Cafe on Atlantic Avenue, doesn’t expect a big crowd since the city’s population contracts drastically in the offseason. He’s personally a fan of the president, though, because of his pro-business stance and thinks it will play well for other residents, too.

“There’s a lot of business people, I’ll tell you that. A lot of mom-and-pops, how we are,” said Bilios, of Cape May Court House, as he loaded half-and-half cartons into his Pepsi cooler. “The way Gov. Murphy is sticking it to us ... I’m assuming more and more people are jumping on the Trump bandwagon.”

On a smoke break behind Bill’s Corner Deli on Park Boulevard, manager Nancy McGay, 46, of Lower Township, said she’s a Van Drew supporter first and foremost. She doesn’t vote on party lines and voted for Trump even though she thinks “he’s an idiot when he speaks.” It will likely draw a big crowd, McGay said, but she’s going to stay home.

“I know a lot of my family members are going,” McGay said. “I won’t because I already know who I’m supporting. So I don’t need to go. ... I already support them, so I don’t need to see what they’re rallying (for).”

Contact: 609-272-7260

cshaw@pressofac.com

Twitter @ACPressColtShaw

Staff Writer

I cover breaking news on the digital desk. I graduated from Temple University in Dec. 2017 and joined the Press in the fall of 2018. Previously, I freelanced, covering Pennsylvania state politics and criminal justice reform.

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