LAS VEGAS – They showed up early and braved the heat, parked cars and trucks in the desert and waited for shuttle buses to take them to their commander in chief.
These are the voters who flocked to President Donald Trump’s “Great American Comeback” rally Sunday in Southern Nevada, where the incumbent is looking for ways to expand the electoral map less than two months from the election.
To the people here, the election has already been decided.
“Biden doesn’t have a chance,” said Donna Peterson, a 61-year-old retired Las Vegas resident who showed up to the shuttle site hours before Trump’s scheduled 7 p.m. rally at Xtreme Manufacturing in neighboring Henderson. “Trump will keep us safe.”
Safe from what, exactly?
“Illegal immigrants,” she said. “Protests that turn into riots. Our own government.”
Trump’s rally created an opportunity for the USA TODAY Network to survey a varied collection of his supporters to learn what motivates them and what they think of his chances in Nevada – a state that’s shifted into the Democratic column over the last three presidential elections.
Trump’s rival, Vice President Joe Biden, maintains a narrow 4 percentage point lead in Nevada, according to a Saturday poll from the New York Times.
Here’s a look at what’s driving Trump voters who turned up in Las Vegas Sunday.
‘My parents were mad at me when I voted for Trump’
Jason Sasaki grew up in Hawaii, where his parents raised him as a Democrat.
In the elections of 2008 and 2012, the 48-year-old Las Vegas Strip bellman voted for Barack Obama. In 2016, he turned Republican.
“I was brainwashed,” said Sasaki, the son of a Vietnam veteran and a school teacher. He believes his home life and the school system contributed to his Democratic beginnings. “My parents were mad at me when I voted for Trump.”
Sasaki has worked almost two decades at Palazzo, a Las Vegas Sands property owned by resort magnate Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire friend of Trump and the GOP’s most prominent financial backer.
What Sasaki cares about is protecting his paycheck, employment and health care.
“Jobs, economy and medical,” he said. “I don’t want my paycheck to go to Medicare For All. I don’t want to pay for everyone in the world.”
Trump’s path to victory, Sasaki said, is the Hispanic community. Las Vegas is more than 32 percent Hispanic or Latino, according to U.S. Census data. The bellman has no doubt his candidate will win Nevada in November.
“There are a lot of Mexicans where I work,” he said. “They just want to keep their jobs.”
Out-of-town voters flock from California, Arizona
Beth Schmidt, a 53-year-old white woman from Bakersfield, California, stood in the shade of a van, wearing what she called her “Cholo Trump” shirt.
The black shirt has a muscle-bound and tattooed Trump printed on the front – a dollar sign pendant hanging around his neck, “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” inked above his left pectoral muscle and “THE DON” above his belly button.
“I live in an area with a bunch of Mexicans, but I love my Mexican people,” Schmidt said.
She did not vote in the last election.
“I used to be a Jehovah’s Witness, and they didn’t let us vote,” she said.
But that’s a story she’d need hours to tell, she said.
Here’s why Trump is her candidate:
“He’s pro life. He puts America first,” Schmidt said. “He’s made friends with other countries. There’s jobs for every race and creed. He’s fulfilled every promise he’s made.”
‘A fight between good and evil’
Kasen Kolhoss drove one hour south to Henderson from rural Moapa Valley, Nevada.
The 20-year-old real estate agent and his 17-year-old buddy, Avery Stratton, brought a prop for the rally: A cartoonish cutout of President Trump flipping up an abnormally long middle finger with a message above his head – “HEY FAKE NEWS”.
“This is a man who is working for us,” said Kolhoss. “We come from small town America, and he’s fighting for us.”
To Kolhoss the election is not a matter of left versus right.
“It’s almost a fight between good and evil,” he said. “The left doesn’t believe in America anymore. When you see rioting and people calling for a dismantling of the system, it’s scary. They think socialism and tyranny is better for us.”
‘America as we know it is gone’
John Welsh, a 63-year-old retired oil worker, spent Sunday afternoon in a lawn chair, passing out “2020 Bills” to Trump voters attending the president’s rally.
The mock currency looked like a crispy $100 bill – only with Trump’s face on it.
“You deserve it for crossing the street in front of that cop car,” Welsh said, handing a bill to a woman in a Trump shirt who crossed the street to get some shade.
A Tea Party Republican, Welsh got involved with politics after Barack Obama got elected in 2008 and the $840 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed in 2009. The stimulus, he said, got him to pay attention to how the federal government spends money.
“People are going to call me racist,” Welsh said. “Obama was elected because he was black. If he was white, he would have lost.”
It’s not a matter of race, Welsh said, it’s a matter of politics. Democrats used Obama to take back the White House, he said.
Welsh pointed to a growing line of Trump supporters – hundreds of them, many wearing red, most without masks – snaking toward the Xtreme Manufacturing plant where Trump’s rally would later unfold.
“I bet you not one of them is racist,” Welsh said.
Welsh’s top two issues? The economy and the military. This he believes about the incumbent: Trump will keep America employed and soldiers out of needless wars.
When Welsh thinks of the future of America, he said, he thinks about the country his grandchildren with inherit.
“If Biden is elected,” he said, “America as we know it is gone.”
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