EVANSVILLE, Ind. — President Trump used his rally Thursday evening to praise Immigration and Customs Enforcement, tout the tax legislation passed earlier this year and laud the slashing of energy emission regulations.
The rally, paid for by Trump’s campaign, also gave the president an opportunity to stump for Republican Senate candidate Mike Braun 68 days ahead of the midterm elections. Braun’s Democratic opponent, incumbent Sen. Joe Donnelly, has in recent months sought to align himself with Trump’s base, even featuring the president in a recent advertisement.
In his speech, Trump falsely claimed Donnelly was in favor of “open borders” — the senator recently voted for border wall funding. Trump accused him of not voting the way he would like him to, though more than half of Donnelly’s votes are in line with the administration’s agenda and he was one of only three Democrats who voted to confirm Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
The president vaguely hinted at the possibility that Donnelly would vote to confirm his Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh.
“I was unable to watch President Trump’s rally tonight, as I was headed back to Washington for Senator (John) McCain’s memorial services,” Donnelly said in a statement released after the rally.
The Arizona Republican died Saturday after a battle with brain cancer. He was an occasional foe of the president, who didn't mention him in his remarks.
Like other recent events, Thursday night fell in line with a trend of campaigning in states where Trump handily defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. Trump won Indiana by 19 percentage points and Vanderburgh County, where Evansville is, by more than 16.
Despite low approval ratings on a national scale, his support in red states is still relatively high and Thursday's rally crowd packed the 11,000-seat Ford Center to near capacity with a sea of red Make America Great Again hats.
Trump also took time to recount a phone call he claims occurred between him and former IU basketball coach Bob Knight, who appeared with him at a rally in the same city when Trump was a candidate.
“'Trump? This is Bobby Knight, and you gotta run for president. Our country needs you,'” Trump alleged Knight told him a year before he announced his candidacy.
Though Thursday night was an opportunity for the president to flex his popularity among his base, the night did not unfold without incident. One protestor was escorted out through the crowd early on in the rally.
Before the president even landed in Evansville another woman, dressed in a costume from the dystopian book and show "The Handmaid’s Tale," was quietly removed from the venue by security.
Outside the rally a crowd of protestors assembled. The Indiana Daily Student was unable to independently confirm the crowd size.
One of the people planning to protest, Carol Hastings, said she’s always voted Democrat but did not get as involved as she is now until the 2016 election. The retired social worker from Evansville said the school shooting in Parkland, Florida earlier this year amplified her desire to advocate for her own beliefs, which include gun reform.
“All these people have focuses on what their issues are, but when you get down to it all," they unite as one, Hastings said.