President Trump holds first rally since COVID-19 diagnosis in Sanford

IN-DEPTH: President Trump visits Sanford for rally

SANFORD, Fla. — President Donald Trump held a rally in Sanford on Monday evening, making it his first rally in Florida since his COVID-19 diagnosis.

The “Make America Great Again” rally kicked off at 7 p.m. Monday at Orlando Sanford International Airport. Doors opened at 4 p.m.

The rally comes as more than 1.6 Floridians have already voted in this election. And with early in-person voting set to begin next week for both the Trump campaign and the Biden campaign, time is running out.

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WATCH LIVE: President Donald Trump will head to Central Florida tonight

WATCH LIVE: President Donald Trump will head to Central Florida tonight for his first campaign rally since contracting COVID-19. Details >> at.wftv.com/2SQoflW

Posted by WFTV Channel 9 on Monday, October 12, 2020

The president took the stage in front of a packed audience of thousands, many standing shoulder to shoulder, four hours in the Florida heat.

Trump was supposed to visit Sanford more than a week ago, but that visit was canceled due to his COVID-19 diagnosis.

On Sunday, Trump’s doctors said he is well enough to return to the campaign trail.

The majority of the event followed a similar pattern to 2016 events: A mix of talk of trade, the economy, Obamacare and the border wall.

The president then pivoted to the election and voting in Florida, a state he has to win. In 2016, Florida was decided by just 113,000 votes, with the president carrying the state by little more than one percentage point.

For supporters, the rally provided a sense of reassurance heading into November.

“I flew here last night just to go to the rally,” said David Hubbard of Dallas. “It’s the Make America Great Again message; it’s restoring America.”

Billy Wartenberg of Clermont voted for Trump in 2016 and plans to do it again, saying she’s convinced the state will stay red, something the president must have if he’s going to secure another four years.

“It was so fun; I have never been to a Trump rally before,” Wartenberg said. “This is my first one, and just the energy and just how positive everybody was, it was really cool.”

Crews were also busy preparing the airport for Trump’s “Make America Great Again” rally on Sunday by turning an area in front of a hangar into a stage for the president.

Over the weekend, Vice President Mike Pence held back-to-back rallies in Central Florida. He spoke at a “Latinos for Trump” event at Central Christian University in the Pine Hills neighborhood and a “Make America Great Again” event in The Villages.

Meanwhile, Former Vice President Joe Biden is planning to make some stops in Florida this week.

On Tuesday, Biden will travel to Pembroke Pines and Miramar for campaign events.

Thousands gather hours in advance of rally

Video: Supporters gather ahead of President Trump’s rally in Central Florida on Monday

Hundreds of people gathered hours in advance to hear Donald Trump speak at his first Florida rally since his COVID-19 diagnosis.

“You can hear the excitement,” said Susan Fisher of Tampa. “We are excited about our president. He is wonderful, everything he has done. I mean, the list is long.”

Many of those in attendance planned to see Trump speak last week until his COVID-19 diagnosis canceled the event.

Even before the gates opened, hundreds of Trump supporters showed up in force decked out in Trump hats, shirts and more to show their support. Some traveled from hundreds of miles to be there.

Lee Johnson of West Orange County said she had been camped out since 8 a.m. Sunday about a mile down the road to be the first in line.

“I’m at the front of the line. I’m going to be first in there. I’m going to get that front-row seat,” she said.

Sanford marks the president’s first campaign stop since Trump was temporarily sidelined by the coronavirus.

“It’s certainly a big one, especially considering the election is only two weeks away,” said Royce Howley of Jupiter.

However, few of his supporters were wearing masks.

“The president said when it makes sense to wear a mask, so does the CDC,” said Karen Colby of Brevard County. “We have been doing that all along. Right now, we are safe with people we know personally and are staying safe.”