Enthusiastic supporters of President Donald Trump packed the Expo Hall at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa for a rally on Tuesday night.
Trump was there to endorse gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, who he called "a tough, brilliant cookie" and predicted a win in his race against Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the state's Aug. 28 Republican primary.
Trump also attacked the Democratic candidates for being lax on crime.
"These are people that don't care about stopping crime, these are people who don't care about people pouring into our country," he said. "Your future governor [Ron DeSantis] cares, and your current governor cares."
Trump railed against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who is being challenged by Trump ally Gov. Rick Scott in a high-profile Senate race.
Trump, who has maintained a steady presence in the state, said the only time he sees Nelson is "five months before every election."
"After a while, you forget who's the senator," Trump said, adding that he wants to make sure Scott "wins and wins big."
Scott didn't join Trump at the rally but appeared with him at an earlier roundtable event at Tampa Bay Tech.
During the speech, which lasted more than an hour, Trump listed off reasons why voters should elect Republicans who would help him carry out his agenda.
Democrats "don't want to give Trump any victory," he said. "They will do anything they can to not help the Trump agenda."
He pointed to the country’s economic success and low unemployment and touted the progress he’s made fulfilling a campaign promise to put America first.
He also compared himself to an icon of the Republican Party, Abraham Lincoln.
Trump asserted that he's the most popular person in the Republican Party.
He said he can be "more presidential than any president in history," except for Lincoln, "with that big hat" and joked that "Abe Lincoln is tough."
The president has claimed in recent days that he has higher poll numbers than Lincoln. But he doesn't mention that there were no scientific opinion polls in the 1860s when Lincoln was president.
While advocating for voter ID requirements, Trump wrongly claimed that Americans need photo IDs to buy groceries as he railed against the idea of noncitizens voting. He said the only time people don't need ID is when they want to vote.
"If you go out and you want to buy groceries, you need a picture on a card, you need ID,” Trump said. “You go out and you want to buy anything, you need ID and you need your picture."
Trump has publicly threatened to shut down the federal government over his push to overhaul the nation's immigration system and fund his signature border wall, though officials say he has privately assured staff he wouldn't provoke a fiscal crisis before midterms. The president avoided making an outright reference to a government shutdown during the rally, saying, "We may have to do some pretty drastic things" unless Democrats support his agenda.
Trump's arrival in Florida underscored the larger-than-life presence he has wielded in Republican primaries ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, capable of influencing the outcomes of primaries with a single tweet.
With sky-high approval ratings among Republican voters, the president has injected himself into several recent GOP primaries, helping candidates in Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina with endorsements that have helped set the stage for the fall elections.
Appearing at Tampa Bay Tech, Trump praised the strength of the economy, telling students and faculty members there was never a better time to learn new skills and gain employment. He was joined by Scott, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump and several members of Congress from Florida.
Trump also held a signing ceremony for a technical education law he signed earlier in the day at the White House. He's presenting a copy of the law to the school.
Protesters gathered outside the fairgrounds expo hall to protest President Donald Trump's visit hours before his scheduled arrival.
One of the early protesters was Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Florida billionaire Jeff Greene.
He parked a bus with the words "Trump's worst nightmare" outside the venue Tuesday, drawing more than a few heckles and taunts.
He says he wants Trump "to see that not everyone believes in what he does here in Florida."
The protests eventually grew big enough that police had to separate protestors from Trump supporters filing into the campaign rally. Just before the rally officially started, opposing chants erupted -- both for and against Trump's proposed wall at the Mexico border.
Laura Manson traveled from Lakeland and said she thinks Donald Trump is too divisive.
"The end result of that is not going to be good for my country,” Manson said. “And I have relatives that fought in the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War I and World War II, so that's why I'm here today. They fought, and I am fighting."
At one point when one supporter got a bit too close to protestors outside the hall, a police officer on horseback had to break up an escalating argument.
Glen Eich from Tampa brought several protest signs and said he came to demonstrate against Trump’s immigration policy.
“My great grandfather came here from Germany without a penny in his pocket,” he said. “So I am literally here because of immigration. That’s one of the policies that Trump is trying to rid us of. I don’t know how effective it is that I’m here, but I can’t stay home and do nothing. I have to try.”
Greg Cruz from Sarasota brought a bullhorn with him to the protest. When he chanted “What do we want?” protestors chanted back, “Justice!”
Cruz said he came to the rally to represent Black Lives Matter-Tampa. He said, in many ways he and his friends are still in shock that Donald Trump was elected.
“But we still have to get up every day and put our pants on and deal with this world that is changing daily,” Cruz said. “It’s a hard time right now because we’ve never had someone with so much power be so divisive to the people and so blatant.”