Cindy Conley stood with her young son outside a locked gate at the Tallahassee Automobile Museum, her ticket to enter availing her nothing.
Such was the interest in Donald Trump’s first campaign visit to Florida’s capital that hundreds like Conley in her “I’m deplorable and I vote” T-shirt were denied admission.
“Although it is frustrating, it is also exciting,” the Havana resident said, surveying the crowd. “If this is any indication of how people are going to vote, the election’s going to go for him.”
It was Trump’s second Florida appearance of the day, following a rally in Sanford. Trump had been scheduled to go on at 6 p.m., but many people were caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic stretching for at least 1 1/2 miles down Interstate 10 and Mahan Drive.
Leon County deputies were firm with latecomers, even those with press passes. The gates had closed at 5:20. Trump had arrived after 6. They were too late.
In fact, Deputy Jessica Ikner said, “We got here at 1 and people were already here.”
So the left-behinds made do, chatting and enjoying the warm evening and the company.
“Of course,” said Patrick Dillon of Tallahassee, wearing a U.S. Navy veteran’s cap, when asked whether he was disappointed. “This is probably going to be my only chance to see him.”
But “I’m actually enjoying standing out here with the other Trump supporters. It’s a carnival atmosphere. There’s been no pushing or shouting or disruption.”
He’d heard about the distinctly bad vibes at previous Trump rallies.
“He makes statements I do not agree with — a little bit antagonistic, I guess,” Dillon said. “But I would say the same thing about Hillary Clinton. I wish it didn’t have to be that way. This is the first election in my lifetime when the country’s been so antagonistic.”
He thinks his candidate’s getting a raw deal from the news media.
“The majority of the comments Mr. Trump says have been blown out of proportion by the mainstream media,” he said. “I don’t think they look on her comments as negative.”
Counter-protesters did make an appearance — 200 or so of them, across the four-lane highway from a similar number of Trump people. They carried signs reading, “Proud Nasty Woman,” and chanted “Black lives matter.”
They waved the peace flag as Trump supporters across the road waved the official U.S. flag and Florida State University’s tomahawk chop.
Everyone seemed to be having a fine time.
Not everyone was persuaded. Leah — she declined to give her last name — stood inside the gate after the rally, waiting to be let out.
“I don’t want to be harassed right here, but I’m voting for Hillary,” she said.
She described a different atmosphere inside the rally, which she’d attended “to see what it was like.” Did it meet her expectations? “I expected low from him. I received low.” What happens now? “We vote.”
Florida A&M University student Abdul Aziz, in the exclusion zone, was there “because I wanted to see what Trump supporters are like, because they’ve got a bad rep. Some of them are pretty nice,” he said. Still, “I’ve seen some pretty rough stuff out here — people yelling curse words at people.”
Mike DeFeudis of Tallahassee, dressed in a “Donald Trump 2016 — Make American Great Again” T-shirt, took his own exclusion more or less in stride.
“They’ve got hundreds of acres of land, and they’re not letting anybody in,” he said. “I talked to a sheriff’s deputy and he said they can only control so many people.”
He said he voted twice for Barack Obama — “I’m not a conservative Republican.” This year, he’s voting for Trump. He accepts the candidate’s argument that the system isn’t working for people like those surrounding him Tuesday evening.
In fact, he said, news coverage of the election is reinforcing Trump’s message. “It’s going to make all these people who love him love him more.”
“Look at all these people who want to vote for Donald Trump. No question he’s said some bad stuff, but these people here are tired.” He cited the conflicts with ISIS, economic woes, and reverses in Afghanistan.
“People want to believe in making American great again,” Defeudis said. “Whether Donald Trump does it or not, they want to believe. They know Hillary Clinton is not going to do it.”