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CARBONDALE — As the sun rose on Saturday, the line of cars waiting to get into Southern Illinois Airport was already stretching deep on Airport Road — all anxiously awaiting one hour of stumping from President Donald Trump.

Trump announced earlier this week a visit to drum up support for U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, who is competing for re-election in a tight race for Illinois’ 12th Congressional seat.

The sea of red “Make America Great Again” hats was already reaching high tide by midday as people donned fresh caps purchased from roadside vendors and merchants on the rally grounds.

Dawn Marie Tierney drove all the way from Grant Park to see the president speak, and she was dressed for it. A big Trump election button sat just above her Trump red, white and blue-striped socks.

Tierney is a retired laborer — she was a member of the Illinois Laborers Local 751 — and said she’s been on the Trump bandwagon since it started. She said the rhetoric of the president, which has often been criticized, particularly in light of recent acts of violence by people invoking his name, does not bother her.

She likes that Trump speaks his mind and acts like an average Joe.

“It doesn’t say you have to be nice or polite,” she said of the constitutional requirements of being president.

Nadine Elko, of Buckner, waited near the front of the stage. She and a friend came in for the rally just after the gates opened at 7 a.m.

She said before Trump, she had not been politically plugged-in — she never identified with a president the way she does Trump.

Elko said she’s known “since he came down the escalator” that he was her guy.

“He’s on the people’s side,” Elko said.

Of the people interviewed, two big themes came up as to why they supported the president: Immigration and the economy.

“We can’t afford this,” Fred Wilferth, of Leopold, Missouri, said of the stream of immigrants seeking work and asylum in the U.S.

Both of these were themes that Trump touched on in his roughly one-hour speech.

“This election is about borders and this election is about jobs,” Trump told the crowd. He touted his tough stance on immigrants, but tried to sound sympathetic as well. They can come, but they have to do it the right way, he said.

“Republicans want strong borders, no crime and no caravans, right?” he said about halfway through his remarks. He went on to discuss the caravan of thousands of asylum-seekers marching to the U.S.-Mexico boarder.

“We don’t want caravans,” he said.

The familiar chant of “build that wall,” echoed and boomed through the room.

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Photos: President Trump hosts rally in Southern Illinois

President Donald Trump speaks to a capacity crowd during a Make America Great Again rally at Southern Illinois Airport on Saturday in Murphysboro.

Trump played to this in his speech, feeding off of the applause and cheers. He brought out the old campaign standbys, including “lock her up” and other rally chants.

The rally was marred by the events of the day — earlier Saturday a gunman opened fire at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 people. The social media account that appears to be connected to the man arrested for the crime contained anti-Semitic rhetoric as well as statements critical of Trump.

The president addressed this as soon as he got off of Air Force One.

“You cannot let them become important,” Trump said of the shooter. Rumors had floated before the rally that the president would cancel the gathering to address the shooting. He said took inspiration for the decision from the perseverance of those on the New York Stock exchange, and players for the New York Yankees after attacks in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. 

Speaking to the press before the rally, Trump said he did plan to soften his tone that night, but took that chance to go after the media, saying his tone was in part its fault.

“If the press was fair, I’d have a much better tone,” he told reporters.

Trump told the crowd just how important voting for Bost was this November. He said Bost has come to him more than once asking for help for Southern Illinois. He said the first push was for reopening a steel plant in Granite City.

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Photos: President Trump hosts rally in Southern Illinois

President Donald Trump introduces Rep. Mike Bost during a Make America Great Again rally at Southern Illinois Airport on Saturday in Murphysboro.

“It turned out that was just the beginning,” he said.

Trump said this election is one of “resistance and results.”

“Mike Bost is a warrior. Get him in,” he told the crowd.

“He voted to cut your taxes, reduce your regulations, protect your Medicaid, protect your preexisting conditions. Mike Bost defends Illinois farmers, Illinois miners, Illinois steel workers,” Trump said.

In the effort by Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, Bost voted for bills that would have reduced coverage for preexisting conditions in the health care marketplace.

“If you want our president to continue to succeed, you cannot allow Nancy Pelosi to take the House,” Bost said of the possibility his opponent, Democrat Brendan Kelly, might vote Pelosi in as speaker.

“He’s weak on crime. He’s for open borders,” Trump said of Kelly.

Kelly has routinely said he agrees to some point with the president’s call to strengthen the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Kelly, a state’s attorney in St. Clair County, said this would help cut off some of the flow of heroin coming into the United States.

The rest of Trump’s time was used going through a laundry list of accomplishments. Tax cuts, strengthening the military, starting to build “the wall.” At one point, he criticized the width of the runway of the stage, saying it was too narrow. Little new policy was announced, but the speech mostly drummed up feel-good moments for his supporters.

Nearing the end of his speech, Trump made a bold claim, which is not unusual of the president.

Seeming to sweep aside the movement for emancipation during the Civil War, the fight for civil rights this last century and even the revolution to form the country itself, President Trump said, “This is the greatest political movement in the history of our country,” and was met with the roar and thunder of a people ready to go to the mat for the man and anyone he throws his weight behind.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect that the gunman in Pittsburgh was critical of President Trump.

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isaac.smith@thesouthern.com

618-351-5823

On Twitter: @ismithreports

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Isaac Smith is a reporter covering Jackson County.

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