Donald Trump's juggernaut: Meet Friday night lights.
A candidate who loves the shock and awe approach to campaigning ratcheted it up a notch Friday as the Republican presidential front-runner rolled into a 40,000-seat college football stadium for what promised to be the largest rally of the 2016 campaign so far in Mobile, Alabama.
A crowd of what appeared to be mostly diehard Trump fans already was lined up all the way around the stadium in sweltering heat an hour before the doors opened. No one was more impressed than Trump himself.
"Now I know how the great Billy Graham felt," Trump exulted as he took the stage. The reference was to the 96-year-old religious evangelist who was famous for his stadium rallies.
The turnout was all the more impressive given that it materialized on just two days' notice. The billionaire candidate arranged for free shuttle buses to ferry locals who didn't want to pay the $5 stadium parking fee, the Mobile Press-Register reported.
Mallory Hayden, who carried a cardboard facsimile of one of her tweets that Trump re-tweeted, said she was raised a Republican in Texas but never cared much for politics until Trump got involved. A shortstop on the Southern Mississippi softball team, Hayden is planning to cast her first presidential vote next year. She said she likes Trump's business background, his seal-the-border policy and the fact he "won't back down."
The event, at the home of the University of South Alabama Jaguars, was designed not only to showcase Trump's drawing power but to give the Republican front-runner a head start in the so- called "SEC primary."
Alabama is one of at least five southern states that have set March 1 presidential primary dates in an effort to draw the campaign — and the attendant press and policy-making attention — to the region.
While much of the Republican establishment has been openly disdainful of Trump, in Alabama, at least one party local is convinced. As the crowd, which appeared to fill about half the stadium, waited for Trump, state Rep. Ed Henry mounted the podium to announced that he had driven 5-1/2 hours from his northern Alabama district to give his endorsement to Trump. "Go Trump!" he shouted.
And while he stopped short of delivering an endorsement, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, a Republican who shares Trump's get-tough views on immigration, joined him on stage briefly to welcome him "to my home town." Sessions said he is "really impressed" with Trump's immigration plan, adding:
"The American people want somebody in the presidency who stands up for them, defends their interests and the laws and traditions."
In a characteristically rambling speech, Trump inveighed against foreigners, both those who immigrate to the United States and those who trade with the country.
He said China's currency devaluation would take away America's "jobs and our money" and worried that U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy — whom Trump said he personally likes because she's a friend of his daughter, Ivanka — is being "wined and dined' and generally bamboozled by the leaders of Japan.
And Trump continued to zero in on Mexico. "I love Oreos! I'll never eat them again," he declared, regaling the crowd with a report about a decision by Nabisco to relocate one of its Chicago plants south of the border.
Jeb Bush, who has raised more money than any of Trump's other rivals for the Republican nomination, launched a preemptive strike before the Trump rally, sending an email to Alabama Republicans that listed Trump's "many extreme liberal positions," including past support for abortion rights and gun control.
"Trump's positions are out of step with the Alabama way of life," reads the e-mail, which the Bush campaign shared with reporters.
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