Brandon Rhyne lined up at 2 a.m. Tuesday outside the Crowne Plaza resort in downtown Chandler to secure a spot for the Students for Trump rally later that morning.
Rhyne, a student at California State University at Fullerton, drove from Southern California for the event. He and a friend were the first in line.
He’s traveled for other rallies, too. The 22-year-old said it gives him a chance to meet other young people with shared values, like 19-year-old Arizona State University nursing student Christian Merante.
Merante showed up for the rally about 3 a.m. and the two spent the next few hours getting to know each other. Both said they can freely express themselves at events like this, something they don’t always feel comfortable doing on campus.
Tuesday’s event drew several hundred to the hotel’s ballroom, where few masks were seen and social distancing was ignored as event organizers asked attendees to “pack it in.” The event originally slated for outside was moved indoors to accommodate a larger crowd, organizers said.
Students for Trump is part of Turning Point USA, a conservative, student-geared organization. The event, headlined by Donald Trump Jr., his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, and Charlie Kirk, founder and president of Turning Point USA, was meant to energize young voters in Arizona, though many in attendance were older adults.
During what was more of a laid-back conversation between friends than your typical political rally, Trump Jr. and Kirk were seated on stage. They acknowledged Arizona had become a battleground state, which Kirk attributed to a lack of strong Republican leadership and both men blamed on increased influence from neighboring California.
“This state, whether you like it or not, could determine the future of America. If you would’ve told me that 10 years ago, I would’ve thought you were joking,” Kirk said. “Because of California, because of weak Republicans, and many other reasons, this state is now in contention. Do something about it.”
He and Trump Jr. encouraged the standing-room-only crowd to knock on doors, call prospective voters and donate to prevent a Joe Biden win.
“Whatever you would do to prevent that disaster scenario for America, which would leave America totally unrecognizable within a few years … do it now,” Trump Jr. said.
Trump Jr.’s visit is the fifth Trump-related campaign event in metro Phoenix in just more than a week, kicked off with a visit from President Donald Trump. Younger brother Eric Trump will be in Arizona on Wednesday to stump for his father.
Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, in a statement released from the Biden campaign, said the Trump campaign is panicking in Arizona.
“Arizonans are sick and tired of Donald Trump’s failed leadership. More than 200,000 Americans are dead from COVID and hundreds of thousands of Arizonans out of work,” Woods said. “Joe Biden is the leader we need to help our country build back better from Trump’s failures.”
The Democratic presidential candidate hasn’t visited Arizona in person this campaign season, although his wife, Jill Biden, held a virtual phone banking event on Saturday.
PHONE CAMPAIGN: Jill Biden to call AZ voters, lobby for Dem presidential ticket
Kirk: Biden doesn’t represent Arizona
Trump Jr. and Kirk railed against what they described as Biden’s socialist platform. They poked fun at Biden’s age (Biden is 77 and Trump is 74), said he was soft on foreign affairs and immigration and would allow anti-police and Black Lives Matter supporters to take over the country.
“We know Joe Biden does not represent … the values of this incredible state,” Kirk said.
Biden, in a speech earlier this month in Pittsburgh, pushed back against the Trump campaign’s narrative, saying voters know him and his story after 36 years in the Senate and eight years as vice president.
“Ask yourself: Do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?” Biden said.
Trump Jr. told the Chandler crowd on Tuesday that conservatives have long been silenced and ignored but this is their time to speak out.
He asked the students in the crowd how many thought they’d be penalized for attending the rally and supporting Trump and dozens raised their hands. He told them not to be afraid or ashamed of sharing their beliefs.
He encouraged the young voters to have viewpoints and to debate and defend them.
“It will do so much more for you in life than just being a sheep,” he said.
That spoke to Merante, the ASU student.
Tuesday’s rally is the seventh event he’s attended. He said it’s a chance to speak freely with other young people in a way he doesn’t think he can on campus.
“We get to feel like we’re with our people. You’re free to express how you feel without being afraid of cancel culture,” he said.
Both sides in final push to register young voters
Prior to the rally, volunteers and staffers with Turning Point USA walked the parking lot with clipboards in hand ready to help people register to vote as they waited in line.
Staff members said they got a couple of registrations in the hour leading up to the rally.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made reaching out to voters, especially young voters, harder.
Typically, Turning Point USA would be on college campuses talking to prospective voters but that hasn’t been possible this year, said Allison Ackles, who works for the organization.
She said the group is turning to social media instead.
NextGen, a progressive advocacy group working to register young people to vote, similarly is using social media to reach prospective voters, said Kristi Johnston, press secretary for NextGen Arizona.
The deadline to register to vote in the November election is Oct. 5.
NextGen also is making its last-minute push to get young people registered and energized by calling, reaching out via text and even on dating applications.
“We’ve been getting creative and trying to meet young people where they are,” Johnston said.
What motivates young voters to vote
More than 15 million people have turned 18 since the last presidential election and candidates are eyeing young voters as a decisive voting bloc in 2020, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement at Tufts University, or CIRCLE.
Polls have shown young voters tend to favor Biden over Trump though many aren’t especially excited by either candidate.
A survey conducted by CIRCLE of 2,232 prospective voters between the age of 18 and 29 showed 58% of respondents support Biden compared with 24% for Trump. The survey, released in June, has a margin of error of 4.1 percentage points.
Young voters at Tuesday’s rally said they want to vote for a candidate they feel would create a strong and prosperous country and uphold their conservative beliefs.
Alysia McMillan, of Phoenix, said she supports Trump because he will defend her “freedom.” Holding a large Trump banner, she lined up about 7 a.m. for the opportunity to see Trump Jr. speak.
“I want to see America remain a free country and prosper in more ways than one,” she said.
She said one of her priorities is police reform, which she said some may think contradicts the president’s platform. However, she noted that you can support police while acknowledging that changes are needed.
Rhyne, the young California voter, said he is voting Republican because the candidates share his beliefs on issues. He said national discussions on race and policing and widespread protests have energized voters against Democrats.
But young Democratic voters are equally motivated, Johnston said.
She said young Democrats are headed to the polls driven by what they see as a lack of leadership on COVID-19, health care, racial justice and the economy.
“In light of everything going on right now, we’re seeing so much energy and momentum,” she said.
Reach reporter Paulina Pineda at firstname.lastname@example.org or 480-389-9637. Follow her on Twitter: @paulinapineda22.
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