Supporters of President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign fixed large Trump/Pence 2020 flags to wooden house flag poles and PVC pipes outside the Monroe Civic Center Tuesday as they prepared to wait in line for the president’s rally Wednesday night.
“We’ve got people here from Lafayette, Slidell, Atlanta, and we’re waiting over here until we’re told we can get in line,” said Robin Hawthorne, of Calhoun.
Hawthorne was one of many people visiting with each other in a parking lot outside the Civic Center, wearing the red baseball caps that distinguish Trump’s supporters.
Trump’s Keep America Great! rally marked the first time a U.S. president visited Monroe since President Ronald Reagan visited the area to inspect flooding in 1983.
The rally coincided with early voting for Louisiana’s Nov. 16 general election, featuring a run-off between Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone, a Republican.
Trump planned the rally to gin up support for Rispone in northeastern Louisiana. Monroe is considered the hub for the region and is one of most heavily populated areas in the 5th Congressional District represented by U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, whose bid for governor came up short during the October primary election.
It was unclear whether Trump’s visit would carry Rispone’s bid for governor past the finish line, according to Joshua Stockley, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana-Monroe.
“It’s hard to definitively predict what effect it will have,” Stockley said. “However, I do think his visit is significant in and of itself. It’s not very often that the President of the United States visits the state of Louisiana.”
Trump’s visit to Monroe could be instrumental to Rispone’s campaign because the Republican candidate needs a large percentage of votes from Abraham’s supporters, according to Stockley.
“There has been ample evidence to suggest that many of Abraham’s voters were turned off by Rispone’s negativity toward the congressman,” Stockley said.
“It has appeared that many of Abraham’s voters weren’t going to show up and vote at all. But this could motivate Abraham voters to forget the misdeeds of Rispone and decide to turn out and vote for Rispone.”
According to Stockley, Trump’s rally in Monroe and appearance elsewhere in Louisiana prior to the Nov. 16 general election have the potential to benefit the president as well.
“If he visits, and Eddie Rispone wins, then he has the ability to claim he is single-handedly responsible for Rispone’s victory over John Bel Edwards,” Stockley said.
“Trump has the history of being that arrogant. He has a history of taking credit for a lot of things. If Rispone wins, I have no doubt that President Trump will take credit for that.”
On the other hand, if Rispone loses after Trump’s visits, Democrats across the country might argue Trump is so politically useless he cannot help a Republican get elected in a Republican state, Stockley said.
“There is a potential downside to his visit, but I would argue the gains far exceed the risk at this point,” Stockley said.
Meanwhile, a grassroots march protesting Trump’s rally and supporting Edwards’ re-election campaign was canceled Tuesday after the Monroe Police Department asked the event’s organizer to cancel the event because of insufficient manpower.
Conrad Cable, of Monroe, who organized the protest march, said the public march near the Ouachita Parish Courthouse and Downtown RiverMarket also could not be held because they did not have a permit.
Cable said he spoke with a Monroe police officer about the matter Tuesday afternoon.
“He said that because of Donald Trump rally, that police presence was going to be stretched thin,” Cable said.
“Since the event was being started on such short notice, they would not be able to secure it.
“I felt they had a genuine concern. Out of respect for them, we canceled the event.”
As of Tuesday, Edwards was scheduled to visit Monroe on Wednesday, gathering in the Charles Johnson Children’s Park in Monroe to thank his campaign volunteers for their hard work. Edwards’ campaign criticized Rispone for relying on Trump to generate momentum for Rispone’s campaign.