PORTLAND — In a 45-minute speech longer on jibes than policy statements, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump promised a recovery for Maine and America at a downtown rally Thursday.
“I was going to Detroit, but I said I have to stop in Maine. I wouldn’t say it was a very direct route,” Trump said about coming to Portland from Florida to speak in front of several hundred supporters – and a handful hecklers – packed into a ballroom at the Portland Westin Harborview Hotel.
Trump was welcomed to the stage by a six-minute introduction from Gov. Paul LePage, who endorsed the New York businessman last week.
“People may find him a little bit shy, so we are going to get him out of his shell,” LePage said, adding Trump speaks for “one constituent, the American people. He will fight for us, while the establishment has left us behind.”
The welcome was tumultuous. Protesters booed both LePage and Trump, and it took less than 90 seconds for Trump to say his now-trademark “get him out of here” as someone was ejected.
Trump promised his proposed wall along the Mexican border would end the heroin problem by shutting off the supply route. He also vowed it would be named after him, built for less than the estimated $10 billion cost, and paid for by the Mexican government – which on Wednesday officially said it would never pay for such a project.
Trump also pledged to restore American jobs by adding extra tariffs to goods made offshore by American-based companies and then shipped back. He cited the recent move by Carrier Corp. to shift manufacturing from Indianapolis to Mexico as a sign of American weakness.
“I’m going to rip up the trade deals and we will make new ones,” he said of his plans to reduce trade deficits with China and Mexico.
While promising local control in education and the end of Common Core curriculum programs, as well as replacing the Affordable Care Act, Trump also spent considerable time poking fun at U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, also a Republican presidential candidate.
He also had harsh words for 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who earlier Thursday called Trump unfit for office.
“Mitt failed horribly, it was a race that should have been won,” Trump said. He also said Romney begged him for an endorsement and “I could have said, ‘Mitt, drop to your knees.’ He would have dropped to his knees.”
Trump is also eager to face former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the general election Nov. 8, he said, “unless she can’t run because she has been arrested because of the emails.”
In the line to get inside were people attending the rally because of conviction or curiosity, many of whom began lining up by 7:30 on the cold, windy morning.
“I like that he speaks honestly,” Cumberland resident Victoria Hockenberry said as she waited with her husband, Dean, on High Street.
A lifelong Democrat whose grandfather was a union organizer, Hockenberry said she supported Trump for his willingness to increase Social Security and the expectation he will “bring back jobs,” adding she had also lost a job because of outsourcing.
Dean Hockenberry said he appreciated Trump’s stance on illegal immigration after the couple’s experiences living in San Diego County in California, and the increased costs to public education because of increased school enrollments.
“I watched what he had to say, and I said ‘wow, that is pretty bold,'” Hockenberry said.
Tyler Putnam, a history teacher, drove from Acton for the rally, viewing it as an educational tool for the middle-schoolers he teaches in southwestern Maine.
Thomas White, of Castine, said this would be his second time seeing Trump speak. He said he appreciates someone who speaks the truth, both LePage and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who also endorsed Trump, are like that.
“I think he’s tapping into something,” White said.
Portland resident Cody Bistefand came with White to the event. Bistefand, a Republican, said he does not support Trump, but owed it to himself to see the candidate speak.
“When the circus is in town, you see it,” he said.
Trump also had his share of youthful supporters. Conner Mullen and Cameron Goldberg, both students at South Portland High School, skipped school to come see the candidate they support. Both called it a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“I don’t necessarily agree with every word he says, but I like his tell-it-as-I-see-it mentality,” Mullen said.
Goldberg said when it came right down to it, every candidate has flaws, but Trump is the “only man who could come to the table and make a change.”
Several supporters waiting outside the event, including Mullen, said they support the idea of a wall between the United States and Mexico.
But the scene was not without its share of protesters, many of whom carried signs either denouncing Trump or championing a Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who campaigned in Portland a day earlier. Chants for and against Trump could be heard all morning as hundreds of people filled Congress Square Park.
Portland School Board member and City Council candidate Pious Ali organized a rally against Trump.
“The only way to make America great again is to work together,” Ali told the crowd in Congress Square Park.
Portland resident Ellen Murphy said she came to protest Trump because he has “said really awful things” about a range of people, “with the exception of the Ku Klux Klan.” She said everyone should be allowed to say what they want, but that such language triggers protest, and Trump is “a bad guy.”
“I don’t think we should vilify people who came here to have a better life,” she said.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump spoke for about 45 minutes at the Portland Westin Harborview Hotel on March 3, promising his business acumen would return America to prosperity.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage introduced Donald Trump in a campaign rally March 3 in Portland.
A Donald Trump supporter, left, found his campaign signs in high demand outside the Portland Westin Harborview Hotel on March 3, about an hour before the candidate spoke.
Portland resident Ellen Murphy protests Donald Trump’s appearance March 3 on High Street.
The scene in Congress Square Park in Portland on March 3 before the rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.