Wild scene at Jersey Shore beach awaits arrival of former President Trump’s rally

Wild scene at Jersey Shore beach awaits arrival of former President Trump’s rally
Wild scene at Jersey Shore beach awaits arrival of former President Trump’s rally

The scene in Wildwood looks like a beachfront concert, with a sea of ​​people gathered in front of a stage on the sand.

But instead of band T-shirts, many are wearing familiar bright red baseball caps. And the main act they’re waiting for is Donald Trump, returning to the campaign trail after spending much of the last week inside a courtroom.

Thousands of people have streamed into the famous Jersey Shore destination to see the former president hold a rally along the Atlantic Ocean late Saturday afternoon.

It’s the second time in four years Trump held a campaign rally in Wildwood. He was also here in 2020, when he hosted an indoor rally at the local convention center during the otherwise quiet and cold January offseason — 10 months before he lost the Oval Office to President Joe Biden.

This time, Trump is appearing right on the beach, on a sunny but breezy weekend that was already busy, a day before Mother’s Day with Memorial Day just around the corner. Just beyond the stage is the iconic Great White wooden roller coaster and other boardwalk amusements.

The event comes a little less than six months before Trump and Biden — the presumptive Republican and Democratic nominees, respectively — square off in a bitter rematch for the presidency on Election Day in November.

Though New Jersey is a blue state that Trump has lost twice by double digits, Wildwood is one of the state’s patches of MAGA territory. Officials expect tens of thousands at the event, with Trump’s team calling it a “mega crowd.”

Trump is scheduled to speak at about 5 p.m.

  • MORE: Supporters flock to Wildwood ahead of Trump’s beachfront rally

As the sun rose Saturday morning, some people who had lined up on the boardwalk Friday waited eagerly to get their place on the beach, seagulls crackling overhead.

Chris and Jessica Mitchell traveled five hours through heavy traffic from Sussex County Friday night to attend their first Trump rally.

“I think this country needs him back, because I don’t think this country can survive another four years of Democratic rule,” Chris said, noting he is counting on Trump to reduce inflation, secure the Southern border, and curb America’s dependence on foreign oil.

Jessica said she hopes Trump can deliver lower taxes.

Trump — who saw his fame grow in the 1980s as a casino owner just up the Garden State Parkway in Atlantic City — is holding the rally under a veil of legal woes. Wildwood is about two hours from the Manhattan courtroom where he is on trial in a hush-money case. Trump faces three other unrelated criminal indictments, as well.

He also continues to be hounded by criticism over the Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol and unfounded claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him, despite multiple court rulings rejecting that.

But Kelly Moran traveled from neighboring Pennsylvania — a critical swings state — to take in her fifth Trump rally.

“It’s on the beach and it’s definitely going to be epic,” Moran said. “I just love to go to his rallies. There are a lot of awesome people here. You meet friends.”

She expects this one to be a different.

“I think Trump is going to be talking about a lot of things that’s been happening with his trial and all the witch-hunts and all the lies,” Moran said.

She said Trump’s biggest priority, though, should be releasing those charged in the Jan. 6 attacks.

“They are political prisoners and they need to be released,” Moran said.

Democrats held a press call Friday to criticize Trump for the five bankruptcies his casino companies racked up and his record on jobs compared to Biden. Meanwhile, US Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-11th Dist., is spending Saturday holding various events around New Jersey to counteract Trump’s rally.

“Donald Trump, you’re not welcome in NJ,” Sherrill https://twitter.com/MikieSherrill/status/1789372036826984901. “Because in the Garden State, we believe in democracy, we know that diversity is our strength, & we let women make their own healthcare decisions. Do us all a favor and go back to court.”

  • MORE: Democrats strike at Trump ahead of NJ rally

Trump, however, said during a radio interview Friday that he intends not only to compete in deep-blue Jersey but carry the state — something a Republican presidential candidate hasn’t done since 1988.

“It’s not just gonna be, ‘Gee, maybe we can get close.’ We’re gonna win it,” he said.

Michael Tyler, communications director for Biden’s campaign, laughed that off.

“I think here on Planet Earth in the Biden campaign, we’re going to remain laser-focused on winning 270 electoral votes,” Tyler said.

National polls have so far shown a close race between Trump and Biden. In New Jersey, a recent survey from Emerson College found Biden leading Trump here only by 7 percentage points and by only 5 when third party candidates are added.

Trump has repeatedly accused the Biden administration and Democratic officials in New York of using the legal system to block his return to the presidency. Prosecutors allege the former president broke the law to conceal an affair with a porn actor that would have hurt his first presidential bid.

He is expected to highlight his legal troubles during Saturday’s rally, though he is under a judge’s gag order — and the threat of jail — that limits his legal ability to comment publicly on witnesses, jurors, and some others connected to the New York trial, which is expected to consume much of the month. The judge in the case already has fined Trump $9,000 for violating the order and warned that jail could follow if he doesn’t comply.

Biden, meanwhile, began this weekend with a series of fundraising events on the West Coast and has so far avoided discussing Trump’s legal challenges.

Along the beach and boardwalk in Wildwood, there are lots of true Trump believers — and right-wing views.

Dan and LeeAnn Raffensperger traveled from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for their first Trump rally.

“We travel all over the country and all around the world and here in America there’s not any city we can go to that we feel safe,” LeeAnn said.

Sue Micklus, from Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, traveled to Wildwood Friday after attending another Trump rally last month in her home state.

Decked out in a “Women for Trump” T-shirt as she walked down the Wildwood boardwalk, the 60-year-old Micklus said she’s been politically active since her 20s but has gotten more involved in the last dozen years.

“We were a much safer country when he was president,” she said.

Adam Radogna, from the Outer Banks in North Carolina, was waving a gigantic Trump flag on the boardwalk as passersby stopped to take photos. Radogna has been to more than 40 Trump rallies and is a member of the “Front-Row Joes” group that supports Trump and travels nationwide to back their candidate.

“We have members from all over the country. It’s no more than 30 or 40 of us and we just love to support Donald Trump,” he said. “He knows who we are and we’ve all met him.”

Jersey politics is also on display. Next year’s governor’s race to succeed Democrat Phil Murphy is already revving up, with a number of Democrats and Republicans having declared their campaigns.

On the Republican side, Trump’s influence is palpable. State Sen. Jon Bramnick has openly criticized Trump, while former state Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli has gone from calling Trump a “charlatan” years ago to endorsing the former president this year and saying he won’t disparage Trump supporters. Waiting in the wings are a pair of pro-Trump candidates: state Sen. Ed Durr, who is expected to enter the race Monday, and conservative radio host Bill Spadea.

The question is whether someone who is anti-Trump or straddles the line can win over the base in the Republican primary and whether a pro-Trump contender can win the general election in the Democratic-leaning state.

It was Spadea’s radio show that Trump appeared on Friday morning — during which he took shots at Ciattarelli, who is running for governor for the third straight time, after narrowly losing to Murphy in 2021.

“This guy never came to ask for my support, and you know what?” When MAGA sees that, they don’t like it, and they didn’t vote for him,” Trump said of Ciattarelli, while calling Spadea “fantastic.”

Nevertheless, Ciattarelli has been working the crowd before Trump’s rally. At one point, a plane in the sky above him carried a banner: “Jack Citt said don’t vote Trump it’s embarrassing.” It was unclear who had chartered the plane.

Meanwhile, Scott Laibaido, an artist known for painting patriotic images and political activist, was the rally’s first act. Cheers and chants came from the crowd as Laibaido painted an image with Trump’s likeness while “America the Beautiful” played behind him.

Jersey-centric music — Sinatra, the Four Seasons — has also played over the event’s loudspeakers throughout the day.

Spotted in the crowd were a few people wearing T-shirts that read “Proud Boys,” a right-wing group the Anti-Defamation League has labeled as extremist.

Police said no permits for counterprotests were filed with the city. And by 3 pm, there was no one in the designated protest area on the beach.

But along the boardwalk walked a man wearing a blue Biden T-shirt and carrying a sign.

“No one is above the law,” it read.

A woman shouted at him: “Biden is evil!”

The man continued walking.

NJ Advance Media staff writers Spencer Kent and Andre Malok contributed to this report.

Thank you for relying on us to provide the local news you can trust. Please consider supporting NJ.com with a voluntary subscription.

Eric Conklin may be reached at [email protected].

Matt Gray may be reached at [email protected].

Brent Johnson may be reached at [email protected].



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