WILDWOOD, NJ – Thousands of President Trump supporters bundled up and wrapped themselves in red, white and blue scarves, mittens and hats to brave the cold for a chance to get a seat inside the Wildwood Convention Center for Tuesday’s rally promoted as a big thank you from the president to south Jersey Congressman Jeff Van Drew , who switched his allegiance from the Democratic party to the GOP as the impeachment movement began to coalesce.
Included in the crowd were several residents of central New Jersey – Lori Matteo and Tracie Zebro of Hillsborough, Shavaun Gliksman of Branchburg and Maryann Hirsch of Dunellen.
New Jersey GOP gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli, a Hillsborough resident, was one of the VIPs on hand for the president’s visit to New Jersey, which came at the end of a day that saw Trump’s defense team wind up their defense of the president in the Senate, and Trump’s joint announcement of a proposed Middle East peace plan with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Also expected to attend the “Make America Great Again” rally were former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway, a native of New Jersey. She had tweeted yesterday that Trump had received more ticket requests for the Wildwood rally - in excess of 100,000 - than any other.
Trump has endorsed Van Drew, who will be running for reelection in New Jersey’s Second Congressional District in November.
“I would love to know how many people are here,” Zebro said, gazing across the packed crowd which stretched from the Convention Center to the boardwalk, parking lots and a nearby baseball field. “Everyone’s got a Trump hat, Trump scarf and actually it’s pretty comfortable.”
Police were out in force, up on the boardwalk overlooking the crowd below, with more security evident on the rooftops of the convention center and nearby motels. Military helicopters flew overhead.
Temperatures were in the 40s, but there was a steady wind blowing off the Atlantic Ocean, just a few thousand feet from the convention center.
Crammed together like sardines in a can, Zebro was thankful for the collective body heat generated by the crowd, which was packed inside stanchions.
“There’s a lot of bodies around,” she said. “The sun never came out; thank God we knew how to dress, but I can tell you there are people here who do not look like they knew how to dress.”
There’s a lot of good energy here and so many people are just so excited to be here and show their support for President Trump,” Matteo said.
Despite the cold and the long wait, Matteo said the experience was well worth it.
“You feel like you’re a part of this movement that’s the best thing about it,” Matteo said. “It’s nice to see it first hand in person.”
Hirsch spent a lot of time taking photos and talking with others in the crowd as the line stalled and edged forward.
“It’s more fun that I thought and the time is going quick; it’s really not that cold if you’re dressed right, but it was tiring.
“I’m wishing we had someplace to sit down,” she said. She and her friends had started out the day with collapsible chairs, but like most people in the crowd, they abandoned the chairs. Piles of chairs grew as the day grew longer towards 3 p.m., when rally organizers began to run the line through security.
Gliksman and her husband Mike arrived in Wildwood Monday night and staked out their place in line. As it turns out, that was a good strategy, because they made it inside and were seated about 15 rows behind the podium.
“It was worth it getting here early, I’m so excited, so happy to be in here,” she said.
Zebro, Matteo and Hirsch were not as fortunate. Despite their long wait, they didn’t make it inside the 7,400-seat arena. The line shut down just as they were walking beneath one of the large-screen TVs set up outside for those who couldn’t fit inside.
Despite being on their feet for ten hours, and despite the cold - with thousands of people behind them - they decided to stay and watch the president’s speech, which was scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.