Steve Garbacz

FORT WAYNE — In an Election Day-eve rally Monday night, President Donald Trump made his last plea to Hoosier voters to keep the nation’s momentum going by putting more Republicans into office.

In front of a capacity crowd at the Allen County War Memorial Museum — with hundreds more stuck outside unable to get in — Trump promoted Republicans up and down the ticket and asked early and often for voters to give his party more seats in Congress.

“When you enter the voting booth on Tuesday, you will be making a simple choice. A vote for Republicans is a vote to continue our extraordinary prosperity,” Trump said. “A vote for Democrats is a vote to bring this economic boom crashing down. The Democrat agenda will deliver a socialist nightmare.”

Trump’s visit to Fort Wayne was the first by a sitting president since Ronald Reagan came in 1982 amid major flooding in the city. Trump did host a rally at the Coliseum in 2016 when he was a candidate running for president.

The stadium’s approximately 10,500 seats were filled to the ceiling with only a few blank spots in areas with obstructed views. Hundreds of people filled the Coliseum floor in front of the stage and hundreds more were left out when the stadium filled up.

Trump took the opportunity primarily to promote Republican Senate candidate Mike Braun, who is in a tight race in his effort to unseat Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly, but he asked the crowd to support any and all Republicans on their local ballot.

The president opened his speech Monday by bragging about the American economy, which has one of the lowest unemployment rates of all time and is continuing to add jobs month after month.

“Republicans have created the best economy in the history of our country,” Trump said. “If the radical Democrats take power, they will take a wrecking ball to our economy and the future of our country.”

Trump also made sure to touch on the tax cut package passed by Republicans at the end of 2017 and, as he had before, promised another 10 percent tax cut for middle-class Americans was coming if Republicans stay in power.

As the president is wont to do, Trump seemed to go off-script for a bit, talking about the “smear job” against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, claiming the women who raised sexual assault allegations against him were lying.

Trump then went on to warn the crowd that Democrats including Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, House minority Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Diane Feinstein of California and Rep. Maxine Waters would rise to positions of power if Democrats retake the wings of the Capitol.

And, of course, Trump spared a few minutes to rail against the “fake news” media about how the cameras never pan over the crowds except when a protestor disrupts his events. On Monday, the rally was interrupted three times by protesters, including one young man on the floor who shouted and raised his middle fingers at the president before being escorted out.

In the back end of his speech, the president went through a greatest hits list of his campaign talking points — illegal immigrants and caravans of migrants coming from Central America, claims that Democrats will raise taxes and wreck health care, and ongoing efforts to “drain the swamp” of career politicians and the Washington establishment.

Trump took about 10 minutes of his hour-long appearance to laud Braun and let the Senate candidate address the crowd. Braun, whose stances and rhetoric closely mirror the president’s own, would be a reliable vote for the administration policies, Trump promised.

While letting Braun talk about himself, Trump instead played the role of attack dog against Donnelly, using the nickname “Sleepin’ Joe” as he told the crowd Donnelly sounds like he’s on board with the Trump train today, but then will go right back to siding with Democrats.

“He’s gone rogue on the Democrats, because now he likes Trump a lot. He loves my border policies — they have got to come in through a process, they’ve got to come in legally. All of the sudden he’s talking about what we’re talking about,” Trump said, urging the crowd not to believe it for a second. “On Wednesday he’ll be totally against us, he’ll never vote for us, he’ll never ever vote for us. We’ll never get a vote from Joe Donnelly.”

Braun talked about his efforts to hold the line on health care costs for his employees and wanting to continue the economic expansion seen so far under Trump.

“We need more reinforcements from the real world. People who have actually done something. Family and friends, get them out to vote, help me send Joe Donnelly to the early retirement he deserves,” Braun said.

In closing, Trump urged everyone in attendance to get to the polls today and cast their votes.

“I need you to get your family, get your friends, get your neighbors, get your coworkers and go out and vote for a Republican House and Republican Senate,” Trump said. “We are going to work, we are going to fight and we are going to win, win, win.”

With a hearty “Make America Great Again” cheer led by the president and echoed by the filled stadium, the president waved good bye on his way to his final rally before Election Day, later Monday night in Missouri.

Opening act

In the hour before Trump took the stage in Fort Wayne, several Indiana politicians and celebrities took the stage to promote Republicans and rally attendees to get out and vote.

Indiana 3rd District U.S. Rep. Jim Banks opened the event and acted as emcee at the podium, asking attendees if they were ready for the president.

“Are you excited to hear from President Trump tonight?” Banks asked to a celebratory roar from the crowd.

Following the brief introduction, Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson led a prayer. Fort Wayne’s Tera Klutz, the Indiana auditor, and Indiana Treasurer Kelly Mitchell led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance. Recording artist and Indiana University graduate Mark Crowder sang the national anthem.

Banks then took the podium back to lead opening remarks, noting that Trump’s visit was the first since Reagan.

“Until this president, (Reagan) was the best president of my lifetime,” Banks said.

Banks gave a highlight reel of accomplishments in the first two years under Republican leadership — two new Supreme Court justices, a pro-life administration, taxes cut, regulations reduced, low unemployment, wages up, U.S. embassy in Israel now in Jerusalem and America out of the Iran nuclear deal.

“This Congress working with this president has delivered for this country, and this is a president who keeps his promises,” Banks said.

Banks also referenced former President Barack Obama’s appearance in Gary on Sunday to stump for Donnelly, to a chorus of boos from the crowd.

“It turns out, folks, that all the sudden this economy is so good that Barack Obama is taking credit for it,” Banks said. “He even got a stage with Joe Donnelly and said he cut the deficit.”

The federal deficit increased $779 billion — 17 percent — in the recent fiscal year under Trump and the GOP congress.

After that, Republican Sen. Todd Young, Indiana’s junior senator, spoke, asking the crowd if they were tired of winning yet, then urging them to pack the polling sites today.

“Let’s run up the score. Let’s keep America great. Let’s keep getting more wins for America and the state of Indiana,” Young said.

Young was followed by former Notre Dame football head coach Lou Holtz, who asked Fort Wayne to send the president more help in Washington.

“We must send people to Washington to give the president a fair fight,” Holtz said.

Cavalcade of stars

Midway through the rally, Trump also took a break to recognize some Hoosier politicians in the crowd as well as introduce a few special guests to the stage.

Trump began by recognizing Gov. Eric Holcomb, who succeeded now-Vice President Mike Pence as Indiana’s top executive. He also called out Young, Indiana’s freshman senator who came into office in 2016 with Trump, as well as Banks, and told voters to support Banks in the polling booth.

“You gotta get out, vote for Jim, vote for all of those great congressmen, all of those great congressmen and women,” Trump said.

He then introduced a few special guests from his own retinue traveling across the Midwest Monday, first bringing his daughter, Ivanka, to the platform and then White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway.

“We are fighting for you each and every day, and tomorrow we want you all to turn up and help us fight back so we continue to keep this rolling,” Ivanka Trump said.

Huckabee Sanders cracked a joke, saying she’s not used to speaking in front of friendly crowds, before thanking the president for her role in the White House and the work he’s doing for the country.

“The greatest job that I’ll ever have and the greatest title I’ll ever have is that of a mom. And that’s why I work for this president: because I care about my kids’ future and I care about the future of our country,” Huckabee Sanders said.

Conway said she “loves me some Hoosiers” and then recounted pundits asking whether the crowds Trump draws would translate to votes. In 2016, they proved that, yeah, it translates.

For Conway, who has ended up on the wrong side of some fact-checks and gaffes like “alternative facts,” did note one thing that was undeniably true on Monday.

“This place is filled to the rafters,” she said in a fact no one could dispute.