FORT WAYNE — Thousands of people turned out for President Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again campaign rally Monday on the eve of the midterm election at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.
Crowds began arriving several hours before the doors opened. By the early afternoon, the parking lot was filling quickly. Red hats punctuated the snaking line of people waiting to get in.
Alexis Potts, 23, of Warsaw, arrived early to ensure a seat. She attended the president’s rally in Elkhart in May, but seats filled up fast and she wasn’t able to get in. She and others had to listen to the rally over a loudspeaker.
“I wasn’t able to get in, but I was on the outside of it, so that was pretty cool,” she said.
Potts, who is employed in the region’s medical device manufacturing sector, said she’s voting Republican because of changes she has seen in the job market.
“I think one thing specifically (that excites me) is all the jobs (Trump has) opened up for everybody,” she said.
The enthused crowd included Hoosiers from throughout northeast Indiana as well as people who traveled from nearby states to attend the rally. Members of one group from Saint Henry, Ohio, said they weren’t interested in politics before Trump took office. They said they felt energized to attend their first campaign rally.
For others, this wasn’t their first rodeo.
“Ten bucks, guys! Ten bucks only!” a young man carrying a stack of the iconic red “Make America Great Again” hats shouted at attendees as they parked at the Coliseum. Some people paid up; others ignored him.
Kane McMurty, 20, traveled from Bowling Green, Kentucky (“Where they make Corvettes,” he said.) to sell hats at the rally. The hats traveled from China where they were made in a factory, McMurty said. This was his third campaign rally this year. He considered himself more of an entrepreneur than a political supporter.
“I’m more of a money-making man. Mr. Trump… I think he’s doing alright for us. He’s doing his best to make America great again in my opinion,” he said.
Glenn Ellenberger, of Fort Wayne, said his support for President Trump and the Republican Party is underscored by the demand for housing. He works in local real estate.
“This thing really took off again after the election. This is nothing Obama did. He’d like to take credit for it, but he did not do it. When that changed, you could just feel it. Normally, I have 50 listings, but I’ve got one listing right now. It’s not because there’s no business. It’s because you take a listing and you might get five or six offers on it that week or the next day, even.”
Ellenberger said the country can thank the presidents policies that favor decreasing taxes and regulation for the increase in employment opportunities.
“All you’ve got to do is look at all the help wanted signs. You can’t drive 10 blocks without seeing at least one begging for help,” he said.
Evangeline Stavretis, of Fort Wayne, attended the rally with two of her sons, Niko, 14, and Ilias, 10.
“I think it’s really exciting for the kids to see a sitting president in their hometown,” she said.
Stavretis said she and her husband like the direction President Trump has been going in terms of tax reform, supporting veterans and renegotiating trade deals in favor of American workers.
“We’re hoping that the next step will be that hopefully we’ll have a Republican House and Senate so that he can build a wall because we certainly don’t want the caravan here,” she said, referring to the large group of South and Central American migrants trekking north through Mexico.
A first-generation American, Stavretis wants people to enter the country legally.
“My parents, my grandparents emigrated from Greece. They came in legally. They went through the process,” she said. “I think we have a lot of American citizens who need the funds and resources that the illegal immigrants get. I don’t think that it’s fair that they get those while we have homeless vets on the streets.”
At about 4 p.m., the Coliseum, which has the capacity to seat 13,000 people, issued a statement that the parking lot was at full capacity, more than two hours before Trump was to take the stage.
Around 5 p.m., demonstrators began to gather across the street from the Coliseum to protest the rally.
Ben Schoch, Democratic candidate for Allen County Council District 2, organized the protest on social media.
“Fort Wayne has been known for being a very conservative area and I want people to see that we’re not just this conservative stronghold. I want people to see that there are opposing opinions and they are strong opinions,” he said.
Canvasing is an important tool to drive voter turnout, Schoch said, but protesting is powerful, too.
“This will energize people to do something. These people will go home and get on Facebook and social media and call people and say ‘We had a good time out here. We showed people what we believe in and we want to get votes out there. Go vote!’”
Many demonstrators took up the rallying cry, “No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!” and carried handmade signs.
Jason Bodnar, who teaches at DeKalb High School, carried a sign that said, “You can’t spell ‘hatred’ without ‘red hat.’”
Bodnar said he wasn’t there on behalf of the high school, but as a frustrated teacher.
“As a teacher, I’m frustrated with all the school shootings and nothing being done about it,” he said.
He added that he was also there to protest the president’s divisive rhetoric.
“I believe there’s a right way to handle problems. There’s a right way to approach any situations and what’s going on right now is turning into more and more division instead of uniting us,” he said.