A team of Trump supporters came out to Flagstaff to mingle with more than 100 people from northern Arizona at two events Thursday.
Northern Arizona resident Wendy Block drove from Cottonwood to arrive at the event at Timberline Firearms and Training by 9:30 a.m. In her mind, supporting President Donald Trump’s re-election bid was a must.
“He’s done a wonderful job. He’s had to shut [the economy] off all of a sudden, and he’s bringing it back." Block said. "He knows what he’s doing. He knows the economy and knows how things work.”
The large red bus touting “Team Trump on Tour” could be seen making its way down Milton Road in Flagstaff and driving down Highway 89A in Doney Park. Flagstaff is widely considered a rural — yet liberal — college town in a county that was picked up by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.
U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, who represents a southeastern part of the Phoenix metropolitan area including Gilbert, and Jeff DeWit, chief operating officer of the Trump campaign, spoke for more than 10 minutes before mingling for about an hour to turn as many votes red as they could.
The decision to mingle is a significant departure for an election season defined by the virus. Those wary of the threat of COVID-19’s ability to infect people may support Democrats' decision to hold more virtual events, but some Republican candidates are focusing on the historic method to political victories: meeting with candidates matters.
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A member of the public interrupted the event toward its end when the Flagstaff Police Department asked the drivers to move the bus from the corner that was parked next to a no-parking zone in the shopping center.
The story so far
Trump won the national election in 2016 in part because of the 11 electoral votes he picked up in Arizona. Then-candidate Hillary Clinton ended the night with 1.16 million votes in total from Arizona, while Trump won the state with 1.25 million votes.
Coconino County was the ninth-highest contributor to Trump’s Arizona win, whereas Coconino was the fourth-highest contributor to Clinton’s total votes. She won the race in Coconino County with 32,000 votes, approximately 12,000 higher than Trump.
The 2016 race, and subsequent elections, have largely led to Arizona being considered a battleground state for the presidency.
A collection of polls from 538 currently place Mark Kelly handily past appointed Sen. Martha McSally. Major polls in 2016 had notoriously undersold Trump's chances at winning. The presidential race is much tighter, but Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden has been in the lead since March. He currently leads by three points overall.
DeWit and Biggs sat down in the bus for a short interview with the Arizona Daily Sun and discussed their strategy for the November election in Arizona before speaking to the gathering outside of the Republican office.
The two brought up water, land and conservation issues they felt were important to rural voters, but also talked about immigration, Second Amendment and police budgeting as important issues overall. Biggs portrayed the defunding police conversation as a discussion about whether neighborhoods would be safe if funding were to be taken away.
In Flagstaff, hundreds of protesters pushed the Flagstaff City Council to reduce the police budget at a late vote in June. Hundreds of protesters also opposed the move, however, and felt that police funds were critical as they were set and should not be diverted into alternative crisis response methods.
The largely Democratic council voted unanimously to fund the police fully, and kicked the can down the road saying conversations were more appropriate for the 2021-22 budget.
Biggs felt Democrats were not being strong enough against calls to defund the police, and hammered his belief home in his short speech at the event.
“You won’t find a bigger dichotomy between what the left wants to do and the rights wants to do,” Biggs said. “We talk about safe and secure neighborhoods and communities; they talk about defunding police. We talk and point out riots in Portland; they talk about peaceful protesters.”
Meanwhile, DeWit, the former Arizona State Treasurer, focused broadly on the Second Amendment as a strength the Republican party should rely on in Arizona.
“I think one of the most important issues in Arizona, as we all know, is the Second Amendment,” DeWit said. “I was incredibly strong on it. Andy’s really strong on it. The president is strong on it. That’s why we were excited that our first stop today was Timberline’s Firearms and Training.”
Rob Wilson, owner at Timberline’s Firearms and Training who agreed to host the event, said his goal was not to endorse any candidate, but inform the public. He acknowledged that after posting information about the event, he lost some followers on his social media account, but he also gained some.
“I’m a strong advocate for an informed electorate. We as citizens have a responsibility to be educated on the candidates and the issues and act accordingly with the information we have to vote,” Wilson said. “This was a great way to connect citizens to the potential elected leaders.”
And there are quite a few politicians to meet. Beyond the Trump bus speakers, Coconino County Supervisor Jim Parks, running for State Representative for Legislative District 6, Rep. Bob Thorpe, running for Coconino County Supervisor District 4, Rep. Walt Blackman, running for re-election, Paul Mock, independent candidate for Coconino County Supervisor District 1, and Williams Mayor John Moore all showed up to mingle with the crowd.
Many politicians held signs and voiced their support for Trump and his agenda. They could be seen hugging children, signing front-lawn signs and speaking with people both masked and unmasked during the pandemic.
Blackman came to Flagstaff to introduce speakers at the event, saying he wanted to "rile up" the base to get the president re-elected.
"We gotta try to respect folks wearing masks. I try not to get close if they don't want to," Blackman said. "When we're knocking on doors, I don't knock on somebody's door if they're an older couple. I'll leave something on their door and something to sanitize.
"For those folks who do want to see me, like those folks out here, I try to make sure I'm available to them," Blackman added.
Some voters who attended the event, such as Kent Cowell, are dedicated, and say they know what they're going to do come November. Cowell called the president “accomplished.” He said the border wall and representative governments were important issues for him.
“I’m pro-Trump — all the way,” Cowell said.