Trump Brings Fiery Message To Thousands in Hartford
HARTFORD — Donald Trump rode his front-running campaign into Hartford Friday night, bringing a fiery message of economic rebirth to thousands of supporters who jammed the Connecticut Convention Center as hundreds of protesters gathered outside.
Citing Connecticut's declining manufacturing industry and pointing to the departure of General Electric, Trump's words drew roars of approval as protesters tried to disrupt his speech at times. Police estimated the crowd at between 6,000 and 7,000 inside and another 1,000 outside who could not get in. Police said there were 400-500 protesters outside the convention center.
"I know Hartford. I've lived in Connecticut. I love Connecticut,'' Trump said after taking the stage at 7 p.m. for a 30-minute speech. "You can't lose General Electric, you just can't. I don't know what happened. I will say this, if I were governor, I wouldn't be losing General Electric, that I can tell you."
"I'm a big buyer of Carrier products,'' Trump said, referring to the Farmington-based United Technologies company that has moved some manufacturing to Mexico. "I'm not going to buy them anymore."
The speech was interrupted repeatedly by protesters inside the convention hall. After the speech, thousands of departing Trump supporters confronted a jeering crowd along Columbus Avenue, creating a chaotic and tense scene. Police reported no arrests, however.
In his speech, Trump emphasized his message of voter anger about a rigged political system and promised that "millions of people aren't going to vote" if he is not the Republican nominee. "This is no longer a silent majority This is a massive, noisy majority,'' he said, pledging support for the 2nd Amendment, immigration enforcement, restrictions on trade, job creation, a strong national defense and a wall along the Mexican border.
"Our country doesn't win anymore. We are going to start winning,'' Trump said. "Do we love our country? Are we going to take our century back? Are we not going to be the stupid people anymore? We are led by people who are grossly incompetent,'' Trump said. "That is going to end, folks."
Protesters who interrupted Trump's speech were quickly escorted out of the convention center.
"There's one of the dummies. Get him out of here. There is nothing more fun than a Trump rally -- nothing,'' Trump said as a protester was helped out. "Get 'em out. Don't hurt 'em. I say get 'em out.''
Urging supporters to vote for him in the Connecticut primary on April 26, Trump promised that "you're going to look back in two years, in four years, in 20 years, you're going to look at your family, you're going to look at your friends and you're going to say 'That was the greatest vote I've ever cast.' "
Before the speech, classic rock blasted over the speakers, and excited supporters talked in anticipation of the evening. A recorded announcement reminded the audience not to engage any protesters, and audience members recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Shortly before 7, hundreds of Trump supporters were still waiting to enter the convention center.
Many in the largely white crowd of men and women of all ages wore red hats and carried "The Silent Majority Stands With Trump" signs. The audience appeared to include few, if any, prominent state Republicans.
Enjoying the balmy spring day, Trump supporters began to arrive in the early afternoon, coming from across Connecticut and New England. The city was surprisingly quiet, with some companies telling employees to work from home. They began filing in to the convention center at 3 p.m., an hour earlier than doors were scheduled to open.
Among those waiting hours to enter was David Veste, 69, who drove down from Enfield early to avoid the expected afternoon crowd.
"I like everything about him. Like most of us, he's not an eloquent speaker,'' Veste said. "Our country is being attacked. Our world is being attacked."
Dan Ladd, an accountant from western Massachusetts, said he took the day off from work because he missed Trump's appearance in his home state last month.
"He's like a person, he's not polished,'' Ladd said. "Someone who can identify solutions first is better than someone who says they have the perfect solution every time."
While protesters wore costumes, played music and argued with Trump backers, the convention center filled up with supporters. The police department had more than 80 officers on hand for the event. Matt Bordonaro, a spokesman for Travelers, said the insurance company advised employees to work from home Friday to avoid traffic.
Terrence Lambert was at the front of the line which, by 2 p.m., snaked around the convention center's courtyard. Clad in his Bridgeport police uniform, the retired officer said he came to support Trump because "he's the only candidate that cares about police."
Lambert said he's voting for Trump for the sake of Brooke, his daughter, who accompanied him to the rally. "I want him to come in and fix the country," he said.
Austin Sullivan, a 19-year-old from Southington, said he came out to protest because Trump is "taking advantage of the fears of millions and millions of people across the nation." Sullivan said he wrote a song for the occasion called "Hello Mr. Trump."
Southbury resident Chris Cannici, Michael Alberino, of Hamden, and Ryan Becker, of New Haven, came to Hartford as part of a planned protest by the ANSWER coalition, a national anti-war group.
"We're here to show the countermovement to Trump's bigotry," Becker, 21, said. "We didn't come to change anyone's deep-seated beliefs."
The small army of merchandise salesmen outside the convention center included Adrian Robinson, 33, who has been hawking Trump shirts, buttons and even rubber masks since January, when his friend persuaded him to leave St. Louis and join him on the road. XXX
"People are surprised when they see a black guy supporting Trump," he said outside the convention center. "But when they talk to me, they usually understand; why should I let my skin color influence my vote?"
A few feet away from Robinson was Agnes Pireh, the 2003 Mrs. Connecticut International.
The former beauty queen drove up from Newington with her brother to wait in line for a candidate she calls "rough, but honest."
"He says the truth about what's going on," Pireh said. "I'm not a politician, but neither is he. That's why we like him. He's like us."
A presidential primary poll released this week by Emerson College showed Trump capturing half of the Republican vote in Connecticut. Ohio Gov. John Kasich was second, at 26 percent, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas finished third, with 17 percent. In a November Emerson poll Trump was the top choice of Connecticut Republicans, but polled at just 25 percent.
If Trump hits the 50 percent threshold, and wins in all five of the state's congressional districts, as the Emerson poll projects, he would take home all 28 of Connecticut's Republican delegates.
Courant staff writers Vinny Vella, David Moran, Christine Dempsey, Christopher Keating, Daniela Altimari, Russell Blair, Edmund Mahony, Kevin Vellturo and Stephen Singer contributed to this report.