President Donald Trump declared on Thursday in Colorado Springs that he will win a second term on the strength of a booming economy and rallied a thundering crowd to help re-elect Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, whose support Trump said has never wavered.
Buoyed by approval ratings that have ticked up in the wake of Trump’s impeachment acquittal, the president repeatedly brought thousands of supporters to their feet throughout his triumphant 98-minute speech.
“We are going to defeat the radical Democrats, and we are going to win Colorado in a landslide!” Trump told a capacity crowd of 10,000 that filled The Broadmoor World Arena and spilled out into the parking lot and surrounding neighborhoods. As many as 2,000 people were outside, according to a reporter's estimate.
Gardner, considered the most vulnerable Republican senator on the ballot next year, stood by Trump at every turn in the impeachment saga, and Trump appeared to return the favor, calling Gardner on stage and turning the spotlight on an ally he called “rock solid.”
“And you’re going to help us get Cory Gardner across that line because he’s been with us 100%,” Trump said, his voice drowned out by thunderous cheers. “There was no waver. He’s been with us. There was no waver with Cory.”
Gardner bounded onto the stage and shook Trump's hand, joining U.S. Reps. Doug Lamborn, Scott Tipton and Ken Buck, and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.
“Colorado, we are going to win,” Gardner said. “We are going to win because we believe in Colorado! We are going to win because we believe in America!”
A beaming Trump later said: “He does the tractor thing. He loves tractors, he sells a certain type," a reference to the family farm equipment business Gardner’s family has operated for generations in Yuma. “He’s got my complete and total support and endorsement. He will never let you down.”
Gardner warmed up the crowd with familiar attacks on the opposition a couple hours before Trump took the stage: "Vote Democrat if you want to pass the Green New Deal to ban our cows, our straws, our cars."
Rather than announcing whether the Pikes Peak Region will be the permanent home to the U.S. Space Command, news that could boost Gardner’s prospects for a second term, Trump teased his decision and said it will be announced before the end of the year.
“You’re being very strongly considered for the Space Command,” Trump said.
Noting that Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, “showed up” to lobby for the headquarters when Air Force One landed, Trump said to Gardner: “We are going to be making that decision, Cory, when we make that decision.”
Trump lost Colorado to Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 by just under 5 percentage points, and the state’s electorate has trended more sharply to the left since, but the president said he was confident voters will prefer his argument that his administration has made good on Trump’s campaign promise to make America great again.
A Trump campaign official told The Gazette that the campaign believes Colorado is “very much in play” and has a good chance of winding up in Trump’s column in November.
Democrats, meanwhile, scoffed at the president’s record and rushed to celebrate Trump and Gardner’s mutual embrace in a state where polling shows neither is popular.
Soon after taking the stage, Trump paid tribute to Donald Stratton, one of the last surviving crew members of the USS Arizona, who died at 97 on Saturday in Colorado Springs.
Trump said he had a photograph of Stratton from a recent visit to the Oval Office and that he had planned to be in attendance at the rally.
“We just want to pay our respects,” Trump said. “He was going to be here.”
Trump’s speech meandered from proven applause lines about boosting military spending and protecting the Second Amendment to more unpredictable moments, like when he expressed frustration that the Academy Award for Best Picture went to the South Korean production “Parasite,” lamenting that they don’t make films like “Gone With the Wind” anymore.
Neon Studios, the distributor of "Parasite," which has subtitles, fired off a comeback on Twitter: “Understandable, he can't read.”
But through the rally that began hours before Trump took the stage, the message was clear: “We have the best economy in our history,” Trump said. “We are doing better than any country in the world — it is not even close.”
Speaking before Trump, Pence got the crowd chanting “four more years!” and then launched into a litany of reasons he believed the administration deserves another term.
“When this president stands for American jobs and American workers, I stand with Donald Trump,” Pence said. “And when this president stands up for faith and family and the American flag, I stand for Donald Trump. And when this president stands up to the radical Democrats and their endless investigations and their socialist agenda, we stand with Donald Trump.”
Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign’s communications director, said in an interview that the campaign believes Colorado “is moving towards us." He noted that the Republican candidates lost Colorado by increasingly smaller margins in the last three elections — John McCain by about 8 points, Mitt Romney by 6 points and Trump by about 5 points.
“Colorado is moving in our direction,” Murtaugh said. “We think there’s an independent, libertarian streak that runs through Colorado, and we think the president’s record appeals to Colorado. All you have to do is look at the economy — not only nationwide but in Colorado, the unemployment rate is just staggering.”
He wouldn’t say whether Trump will return to Colorado Springs to campaign this year but said the fact he was in Colorado Springs at this time was a “strong indication” that the state is in play.
Calling Gardner “a great ally in the United States Senate for Donald Trump,” Murtaugh added: “In Colorado, just as other places, we think that places President Trump does well, other Republicans will do well. They’re going to be running together here in Colorado.”
State Rep. Marc Snyder, D-Manitou Springs, cast a jaundiced eye at the rally.
"Considering Donald Trump’s history of his campaign not paying bills they owe to the cities they did rallies in, I hope Colorado Springs got paid in advance," Snyder said in a statement. "Trump has a long list of broken promises and bad policies that have hurt working people, and Cory Gardner’s been his biggest accomplice."
Gazette reporter Liz Henderson contributed to this story.