Great Crowd Followed Trump to Jersey Shore for mega Rally Despite the New York Hush Money Trial Weeks before





WILDWOOD, N.J. (AP) — After a long week in court, Donald Trump is heading to the Jersey Shore. And he’s being greeted by thousands of his friends.

Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, drew what his team called a “mega crowd” of “tens of thousands” to a Saturday evening rally in the southern New Jersey resort town of Wildwood. It was being held 150 miles (241 kilometers) south of the New York City courthouse where he has been forced to spend most weekdays sitting silently through his felony hush money trial.

The beachfront gathering, described by Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-N.J., as the largest political gathering in state history, was designed to serve as a show of force at a critical moment for Trump, who is facing dozens of felony charges in four separate criminal cases with the election less than six months away. There is a real possibility that Trump could be a convicted felon by Election Day.

Hours before he was scheduled to take the stage, thousands of Trump loyalists donning “Never Surrender” T-shirts and red “Make America Great Again” hats crowded onto the sand between the boardwalk and carnival rides to greet the former Republican president.

“The everyday American people are 100% behind him,” said Doreen O’Neill, a 62-year-old nurse from Philadelphia.

“They have to cheat and smear him and humiliate him in that courtroom every single day,” O’Neill said. “This country is going to go insane if they steal the election again.”

Trump’s extraordinary legal woes, which include three other unrelated criminal cases, have emerged as a central issue in the campaign.

Trump has repeatedly accused the Biden administration and Democratic officials in New York of using the legal system to block his return to the White House. Prosecutors allege the former president broke the law to conceal an affair with a porn actor that would have hurt his first presidential bid.

And while Trump will almost certainly seize on his legal woes Saturday, a judge’s gag order — and the threat of jail — will limit Trump’s ability to comment publicly on witnesses, jurors and some others connected to the New York trial, which is expected to consume much of the month. The judge in the case already has fined Trump $9,000 for violating the order and warned that jail could follow if he doesn’t comply.

Trump’s responsibilities as a defendant have limited his ability to win over voters on the campaign trail.

He spent last week’s off-day from court in the general election battlegrounds of Wisconsin and Michigan. And he was campaigning with tens of thousands of voters Saturday in New Jersey, a reliably Democratic state. Parts of New Jersey have deep-red enclaves and the southern shoreline in particular draws tourists and summer homeowners from neighboring Pennsylvania, a key swing state.

President Joe Biden, meanwhile, opened his weekend with a series of fundraising events on the West Coast.

He avoided Trump’s legal challenges — as he has done consistently — while addressing donors in Seattle. Instead, the Democratic president focused on Trump’s recent interview with Time magazine in which the Republican former president said states should be left to determine whether to prosecute women for abortions or to monitor their pregnancies.

Saturday’s visit to the New Jersey Shore resort wasn’t Trump’s first.

While president, Trump held a rally there in January 2020 to thank Van Drew, the New Jersey congressman who had just left the Democratic Party for the GOP as a rebuke for the former president’s first impeachment.

Trump drew a crowd at the time that lined the streets, filled bars and supported numerous vendors in what is usually a sleepy city in the winter. This time, the summer season is around the corner for the resort known for its wide beaches and boardwalk games and shops.

Wildwood is in New Jersey’s 2nd District, which Van Drew has represented for three terms and covers all or part of six counties in southern New Jersey. It went for Trump in 2016 and again in 2020 after earlier backing Barack Obama.

Trump is set to return to the courtroom next week, when key prosecution witness Michael Cohen, Trump’s fixer-turned-foe, is expected to take the witness stand. Last week, he was visibly angry at times as he was forced to sit through testimony from former porn actor Stormy Daniels, who described a sexual encounter with the former president in shocking detail.

Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying internal Trump Organization business records. The charges stem from paperwork such as invoices and checks that were deemed legal expenses in company records. Prosecutors say those payments largely were reimbursements to Cohen, Trump’s attorney, who paid Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet.

The prosecution could rest its case by the end of the week. It’s unclear if Trump himself will take the stand when the defense presents its case.

Back on the Jersey Shore, 65-year-old Pat Day said she felt some urgency to see Trump in person on Saturday.

“We want to see Trump before they take him out,” said Day, who was visiting from the Florida Keys. “I’m worried. They’re going to do everything they can so he doesn’t get elected again.”

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