MOBILE, Ala. (CNN) — Donald Trump brought 30,000 supporters to a Friday night pep rally in a football stadium, the latest sign that the Republican front-runner has broad, nationwide strength.
Over an hour of often rambling remarks, the New York businessman reveled in the crowd size while he offered them his usual menu of patriotic pledges and carefree criticism of the media, his opponents and political correctness that he said his crowd similarly despised.
“We’ve gotten an amazing reception,” Trump said as he began his remarks, turning his back to the podium at the Ladd-Peebles Stadium and pointing to the rafters behind him. “Has this been crazy? Man!”
The event had the trappings of a big Friday night high school match-up. Trump flew by the stadium in his private jet shortly before 6 p.m., doing a loop around the arena before landing. The fly-by was announced over the stadium’s loudspeaker to cheers.
The event was previously planned to be held at the nearby Civic Center but was moved to the 43,000-seat Ladd-Peebles Stadium — a venue normally home to high school football games — to accommodate the crowd. The City of Mobile confirmed late Friday that 30,000 people attended.
“It was one of the greatest events Mobile ever put on aside from Mardi Gras,” said Colby Cooper, Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s chief of staff.
Trump — whose victory in national and early-state polls is no longer a surprise — has in recent weeks taken steps to quickly professionalize his political operation. And his event at a stadium that each year hosts college football’s Senior Bowl was an effort to assemble the grandest show of force yet.
Those who attended saw Trump, clad in a navy blue jacket and his own cherry-red “Make America Great Again” red baseball cap, win the admiration of hometown hero Jeff Sessions. The Alabama Republican senator did not endorse Trump, but came on stage to endorse Trump’s immigration positions while wearing his own, off-white, Trump-branded hat.
More jabs at Jeb Bush
And those in the crowd also heard the new Republican front-runner train his eyes once again on the old one, Jeb Bush, needling him as having low energy and saying he would do the bidding of special interests.
“Here’s a simple question: Who would you rather have negotiating with China, Japan, Mexico, any of them? Trump or Bush?” he asked, as the raucous crowd chanted his name back to him. “Ah, what a group.”
Bush and his allies once again aggressively looked to rebut the real estate magnate’s message, reflecting a new muscular stance against the Trump that Bush first unveiled this week in New Hampshire. This time, Bush supporters took his counterargument straight to Trump’s own voters. Bush’s super PAC, Right to Rise, arranged its own flyover at the stadium as a jet carried a banner reading: “Trump 4 higher taxes, Jeb 4 prez.”
And Bush’s official campaign said it also emailed supporters in Alabama pointing out Trump’s previous liberal positions on abortion, gun rights and tax issues.
“Trump’s positions are deeply out-of-step with the Alabama way of life,” the email reads, according to the campaign. “Trump’s history of supporting Democratic ideas will not go unnoticed in Alabama and we trust you will make it known.”
Bush and Trump have sparred since the “Apprentice” star launched his campaign in June. Most recently, they have fought over the former Florida governor’s use of the term “anchor baby,” which many see as derogatory toward Latinos.
Much of Trump’s remarks here rehashed the themes he has made central to his campaign, seizing upon an economy he said was stalling and immigration laws that he said need revamping. Barely mentioned at all: Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee who Trump thinks might not make it to the general election given unanswered questions about her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state.
Supporters gathered early
Attendees gathered as early as 6 a.m., and some traveled from as far away as Florida and California to attend.
The first 10 people in line were strangers this morning, but after waiting outside in the 90-degree heat, they befriended one another and all chipped in to buy a canopy from Walmart and a few pizzas from Dominos.
Amanda Mancini, who said she is part of a new movement called “Women for Trump,” flew in from Los Angeles. “I wanted to be part of it. I initially thought it was going to be small, band I thought Trump wouldn’t be coming to me in California, so I would have to come to him.”
Brent Fritz and Jacob Murray, 19-year-old students from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, drove in Friday morning to see Trump. They left at 4 a.m. ET and arrived around noon local time.
The first person to get in line was retired Marine Keith Quackenbush.
“This isn’t about Republicans, it isn’t about Democrats, this is a movement of citizens across America tired of the BS,” he said.
That’s the message Trump dished to his voters. At times appearing more prepared than usual — referencing what seemed to be notes on his podium and relaying new statistics about illegal immigration to his crowd — a joyful Trump offered to sign copies of his book, waved his arms to encourage applause at some of his one-liners and made an effort to his southern crowd by calling the Bible his favorite book and lamenting the decline of the Alabama steel industry.
“We have a stock market not doing so well, we have a country not doing so well, we’ve been saying it for a long time,” Trump said. “We have politicians who don’t have a clue. They’re all talk, no action. What’s happening to this country is disgraceful.”
The Republican front-runner, buoyed by his crowd, was nevertheless enjoying the moment.
“I’d like to have the election tomorrow,” he said. “I don’t want to wait.”