But make no mistake, it was Trump they had come to see. Both both wore red T-shirts that read “Women for Trump 2020” on the front and “Deplorables” on the back. Barnette said the shirts were made by their niece just a few days before before the rally.
“We are the biggest Trump fans,” Barnette said.
Their early morning trip paid off as the sisters were among the first allowed into Freedom Hall before 4 p.m. The sisters ate nachos and spoke to fellow Trump supporters as the crowd began filing in.
As with others who had waited many hours to see Trump Monday, Barnette and McMurray jumped to their feet when Trump finally arrived on stage at 7 p.m. Many in the crowd waved signs that read “Keep America Great,” “Vets for Trump” and “Drain the Swamp” as the president entered with “God Bless the USA!” playing in the background.
“Hello Johnson City,” the president said. “Great to be with you.”
Later, the president stopped to acknowledge a member of the audience who had shouted, “I love you Trump.” The president responded, “I love you, too,” before telling the crowd, “He doesn’t sound like my type. His voice is too deep.”
Getting Ready to Rally
A long queue had already began to assemble in the VIP line before 3 p.m. Among them were local politicians and Republican activists. Wanda May, a longtime GOP campaigner in Johnson City, was among those waiting to enter Freedom Hall. May recalled playing a key part in welcoming President Gerald Ford to the same civic center in 1976. That visit, she said, was nothing compared to the scope of Trump’s visit Monday.
“This is so much more,” she said. “It’s unbelievable. We do not realize how big this is.”
Hours before the rally began the sound system inside Freedom Hall blared songs from The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson and the Village People. A wave started across the civic hall, along with shouts of “USA!” There were also chants of “Lock her up” heard in the audience.
Ernie Rumsby, president of the Tri-Cities Military Affairs Council, mingled with the crowd gathering on the floor in front of the speaker’s podium. Rumsby, who wore a “Blackburn for Senate” sticker, said he was pleased to see history being made in Johnson City.
“I’m here to see Marsha Blackburn and President Trump,” he said. “It’s not every day you see a sitting president in person. And Trump is our commander in chief.”
Speakers before the president and Blackburn included Gov. Bill Haslam, GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee and U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st. Roe helped set the tone of the rally by pointing out how crucial the midterm elections were for Republicans, noting that without a GOP majority in the Congress, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Maxine Waters would be in power.
His comments, like those of the president’s criticism of the Democratic leadership, produced a loud reaction from the crowd. Roe also noted there had a been a record “92,000 requests for tickets” to the rally, more than any other such Trump event in the nation.
President Trump also told the audience there were “close to 20,000 people” standing outside of Freedom Hall watching the rally on “big screens.” Trump urged the crowd not to “take any chances, and get out the Republican vote on Nov. 6.”