Story updated 7:06 p.m.
MESA – President Donald Trump greeted a cheering crowd at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport about 6:45 p.m. Friday after crisscrossing metro Phoenix to show his support of U.S. Senate candidate Martha McSally.
Trump said McSally will “protect your jobs, defend your borders and continue making America great again.” And he reminded the crowd that early voting already has begun in Arizona.
“If anybody would like to leave and go out to vote, I don’t mind at all,” Trump said.
McSally faces Democrat Kyrsten Sinema in the race for U.S. Senate. Trump had referred to McSally as “brilliant” earlier in the day, while calling Sinema a “very, very strange opponent.”
Trump went from a fundraiser in Scottsdale to a tour of Luke Air Force Base in Glendale before heading to the “Make America Great” rally.
At the public event, McSally took the stage and told the president: “I just want to let you know, we are not crazy here. Unlike what my opponent said, we are not the meth lab of democracy.”
Thousands of people had lined up in Mesa as dawn broke Friday.
Jay Cole of Mesa, a Trump rally veteran, said for these events, it’s best to leave his house by 3 a.m. or, at the latest, 4 a.m., to be among the first in line.
“I like to be in the front so I can get front row seats so I can be close to him,” Cole said, adding that hearing the president speak would be worth the long wait.
His brother, Tim Cole, was attending his first Trump rally. He’s not sure what to expect, but he’s game.
“I’ve never met or been around the president or any president, so I thought it would be fun,” he said.
“I’ve never met or been around the president or any president so I thought it would be fun,” said Tim Cole (left). Jay and Tim Cole, brothers from #Mesa, AZ came out to the rally in Mesa today to support #Trump. pic.twitter.com/3vHy8OUAQw
— Cronkite News (@cronkitenews) October 19, 2018
By 1 p.m., the line snaked around the building, owned by a private air-services provider, where the rally is scheduled. Mesa police said about 1,000 people were waiting but called it a rough estimate.
One of those was Teresa Mendoza, a Mesa resident and a member of the Latinas for Trump national group. She said she was a longtime Democrat but became a Republican after Trump was elected.
“The Democrats are out of control,” she said. “Now I’m not only an ex-Democrat, I’ll never vote Democrat again. He turned me into a Trumpster.”
She attended Trump’s Phoenix rally last year, which led to Phoenix police using tear gas and pepper-spray bullets on protesters after the rally. The Phoenix chapter of the ACLU has filed a class action lawsuit, saying police overreacted.
But Mendoza said she hopes police would use force again if protesters act irrationally. What brought her to this rally, she said, is seeing people of all backgrounds supporting Trump’s values.
But protesters were not around ahead of Mesa’s rally. Only two protesters were inside the designated area for opposition protest.
The president had arrived late Thursday night at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and headed directly to the Scottsdale Princess resort.
On Friday, according to his schedule, he participated in a roundtable discussion with supporters, delivered remarks at a fundraising committee luncheon and sign a presidential memorandum about the “reliable supply and delivery of water in the West.”
McSally announced Trump’s tour of Luke during a debate on Monday night that aired on Arizona PBS. While on base, the president also is expected to participate in a defense roundtable.
While the president worked, so did Mike Harris, 55, a vendor from San Antonio who has been going to rallies consistently since 2016. The Mesa rally is his 54th.
“I wasn’t even a Trump follower in the beginning,” Harris said. “Now that I’ve seen the change in the economy, it changed my mind.”
Harris has also attended rallies for political parties, including a Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. “I like to know both sides.”
Many people buying buttons, shirts and other Trump gear are from out of state, he said.
Cronkite News reporters Gabriella Bachara, Micah Alise Bledsoe, Jordan Dafnis, Jordan Evans, Adriana Falero, Samie Gebers, Anya Magnuson, Nicole Neri, Karisma Sandoval and Beichen Tong.