Salt Lake Tribune reveals a tightly packed, rowdy crowd of Utahns awaited Donald Trump on Friday for a quickly organized rally at the Infinity Event Center in Salt Lake City, a signal that he isn’t giving up on the state after bowing out of a planned Republican debate.
A phalanx of high-ranking Utah Republicans came out to back the billionaire businessman, chief among them Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, who not only endorsed, but introduced him.
Before the rally, Hughes told The Salt Lake Tribune: “I have absolutely enjoyed how Donald Trump, as a candidate, has broken absolutely every rule of campaigns and elections I have grown to understand over the years.”
Hughes was previously a supporter of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who has dropped out of the race, and he said he wasn’t going to endorse Trump if the front-runner’s campaign wouldn’t compete in the state.
When the Trump campaign promised to come to Utah it changed his mind.
“Donald Trump has come to fight for Utah’s support so I’m going to fight for Donald Trump,” Hughes said.
Salt Lake City’s Randall Heiner, was the first in line, getting up at 4 a.m. Friday morning to get the rally details and snag a good spot. He agrees with Trump on policy, Heiner said, but he was most excited for the “entertainment value” of a Trump event.
Next in line behind the Heiners, Park City’s Kate Fitzgerald was likewise drawn by Trump’s star quality.
“I just really wanted to see him in person,” Fitzgerald said. “I don’t think any of the other [candidates] could beat Hillary [Clinton].”
Military veterans were ushered to the front of the line, which stretched from the entrance of the venue — more commonly used for live music and country dance lessons — east to State Street and then south to 700 South.
Many had hoped to attend the GOP debate scheduled for Monday, but scratched after Trump said he wouldn’t attend and Ohio Gov. John Kasich followed suit.
Salt Lake City’s Darrell Boldt said he was “darn excited” to learn that he’d still have a chance to see Trump in person.
He doesn’t favor the left or right, particularly, Boldt said. “I want somebody from outside of Washington.”
But that doesn’t mean Hughes thinks Trump could win Utah’s presidential caucus. Polls have shown that to be a long shot. The Trump campaign could claim some delegates if he gets at least 15 percent of the vote.
Mitt Romney announced on Facebook that he’s voting for Trump’s closest rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, earning a rebuke from Trump on Twitter.
“Failed presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the man who ‘choked’ and let us all down, is now endorsing Lyin’ Ted Cruz. This is good for me!”
He also tweeted about his Utah rally saying: “Lyin’ Ted Cruz should not be allowed to win there — Mormons don’t like LIARS!”