WILDWOOD — New Jersey may be a blue state on the electoral map, but on Tuesday this shore town was awash in red hats as tens of thousands of people came to catch a glimpse of President Donald Trump, who tore into the Democratic state's immigration policies.

Trump took the stage at the Wildwood Convention Center close to 7:30 p.m. but hundreds of people had been camped outside the night before. By morning, thousands were lined up and many more lined the streets to greet Trump’s arrival.

Trump’s speech touched on his usual talking points of "creating jobs and killing terrorists" but added mentions of the Garden State, taking credit for the state’s jobs numbers and slamming Democrats who he said “instituted sanctuary policies that resulted in dangerous predators being sent free into your community.”

The president gave shoutouts to former Gov. Chris Christie, state Sen. Joe Pennacchio, R-Morris, former advisor Bill Stepien and longtime advisor Kellyanne Conway.

Conway, who grew up in Waterford and Hammonton, made a cameo appearance on stage, declaring South Jersey “Trump country.”

Trump returned the love, calling New Jersey residents "tough, smart and great people," giving extra credit to Thomas Edison and Frank Sinatra.

Election 2020 Trump
President Donald Trump with U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew in Wildwood on Jan. 28, 2020. (AP Photo)

The rally was planned to endorse U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, the 2nd Congressional District congressman who was elected as a conservative Democrat but defected to the Republican Party after splitting with his party to vote against the articles of impeachment against Trump last month.

Trump introduced Van Drew at the rally by calling him a “courageous leader” and a “brave guy” who left the Democrats because he “had enough of their extremism, enough of their socialism and enough of their vile hoaxes and scams.”

Van Drew spoke for a few minutes, rallying the crowd by calling the 2020 race a “flashpoint election.”

“The USA is a great nation, the greatest nation that civilization has ever known. Do we want to keep it that way?” he asked the crowd. “Will we allow ourselves to be just like any nation in the world or are we going to keep America great?"

An hour before Trump was set to take the stage, Gov. Phil Murphy and the state Democratic committee issued a written statement blasting Van Drew for switching parties.

“President Trump has spent the past three years breaking promises and taking our country backwards by embracing hate and division,” Murphy said. “His failed record stands in stark contrast to what we’ve been able to accomplish here in New Jersey, and his presence is a reminder of how important it is that we continue working to make our economy deliver for the middle class, not just the wealthy and well-connected. That’s what we’re fighting for as Democrats, and that’s why we will defeat President Trump and Rep. Van Drew in November.”

Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Wildwoods Convention Center Oceanfront, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020, in Wildwood, N.J. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

New Jersey has voted for Democratic presidential candidates since 1992, but South Jersey turned out large numbers for Trump in 2016. The state’s Democratic administration has filed dozens of lawsuits against the Trump administration on matters of tax, immigration and environmental policies. Trump’s approval rating among state voters remains below 40%.

But the enthusiasm for the incumbent president was undeniable in Wildwood, where hundreds of people lined the streets to greet his arrival on Tuesday. The Wildwood Convention Center has capacity for about 7,500 people but 175,000 ticket requests were made in the weeks leading up to the rally. An overflow crowd watched Trump on screen outside the convention center.

The turnout was noticed by Trump.

“We’re in the middle of winter. It’s a great place in the summer and those streets are packed all the way back to the airplane, practically,” Trump said before asking the crowd for a big turnout for Van Drew in the June primary.

Election 2020 Trump
People watch a President Donald Trump campaign rally on a large screen television in parking lot outside the convention center in Wildwood, N.J., Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The rally came a week after the Justice Department filed briefs supporting legal challenges by Cape May and Ocean counties of the state immigration law-enforcement directive that went into effect in March. State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has said that the directive ensures that immigrants who may be living in the country illegally will not be afraid to cooperate with local police on criminal investigations.

The Trump campaign on Tuesday said Democrats support “radical open-border policies” that could have contributed to violent crimes in New Jersey, listing the 2018 stabbing death of 16-year-old Madison Wells, the rape and drowning of a 45-year-old Carolina Cano last year in Jersey City, the rape and abduction of a 15-year-old girl from Paterson last year, and a drunk-driving crash that injured a pedestrian in September.

After the rally, Grewal said on Twitter that Trump was "lying" about the state's policy.

The Trump campaign touted economic figures for New Jersey that the Murphy administration also has taken credit for, such as adding 135,000 new jobs since 2016, a record-low unemployment rate of 3.1% and 83,000 fewer residents living below the poverty line.

Trump also took credit for the number of New Jersey residents receiving food stamp benefits decreasing by 149,000, although the state is suing the Trump administration over food stamp eligibility changes that will kick off an estimated 12,000 needy people.

The campaign also touted the 2018 U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement, a yet-to-be-ratified deal that is supposed to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement. The Trump administration argues the new deal will benefit the Garden State, which has $10 billion in exports to Canada and Mexico.

The campaign also highlighted the Trump tax cuts, saying the average resident saved $1,300, but did not mention the law’s $10,000 cap on the State and Local Taxes deduction. New Jersey and other high-tax states last year sued the Trump administration over the SALT deduction cap. A federal judge dismissed the case but New Jersey is appealing.

Gov. Chris Christie with Jeff Van Drew at Trump rally
Former Gov. Chris Christie with U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew at Trump rally (Marquez Dre)

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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