President Donald Trump’s visit to Great Falls Thursday was a campaign stop that was both political and personal. Trump targeted Democrat Jon Tester in a bid to get more Republicans elected to the Senate but also to punish the lawmaker he blames for derailing his nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"You deserve a senator who doesn’t just talk like he’s from Montana, you deserve a senator who actually votes like he’s from Montana,” Trump said, endorsing the Republican candidate for the Senate seat, state Auditor Matt Rosendale.
It’s the first time a sitting president has visited the state since 2005.
“And that’s probably why I’m here, because I won Montana by so many points I don’t have to come here,” Trump said.
Trump cast Tester as a "liberal Democrat," railing against his voting record on issues like abortion, immigration and taxes.
Rosendale stood on stage with Trump and told the crowd that the president was helping Montana industries like timber and coal.
“And you know he’s [Trump] fighting for our miners down in Butte, and those coal workers in Colstrip who produce that beautiful, clean coal,” Rosendale said.
Hundreds of people began lining up outside the arena a full eight hours before Trump was scheduled to speak. The number swelled to thousands by midday. Trump spoke for more than an hour.
Senator Jon Tester tried to counter Trump's visit by taking out a full-page ad today in more than a dozen newspapers across the state thanking him for signing 16 bills that the Democrat sponsored or co-sponsored.
Update 5:45 p.m.
President Donald Trump spoke to more than 6,000 people in the packed Four Seasons arena in Great Falls this afternoon, making his entrance a little before 4:30.
"Well thank you Montana, what a place. And it's great to be here tonight with thousands of proud, hardworking American patriots, thank you," Trump said, addressing the crowd.
The President was here to campaign for Matt Rosendale, the Republican State Auditor who’s running to defeat two-term Democratic Senator Jon Tester. Rosendale briefly shared the stage with Trump.
"Today I ask for your vote so President Trump can continue his great work," Rosendale said. "And you know he's fighting for our miners down in Butte, and those coal workers in Colstrip who produce that beautiful, clean coal."
Sen. Tester welcomed Trump to Montana with a tongue in cheek full page ad in the Great Falls Tribune and other newspapers, and thanking him for signing more than a dozen Tester-sponsored bills. On Friday he told MTPR he’s glad the President is here.
"Hope he has the opportunity to take a look at some of the challenges we have in the state, whether it’s getting around to some of our veterans clinics, especially in our rural towns, to make sure he sees the challenges they have," Tester says.
"You know, he’s going to be fairly close to the northern border, so he ought to run up and take a look at what’s needed up there to keep that border secure.
"And then challenges around infrastructure, particularly broadband, but also our roads and bridges. If he could get around to see some of that stuff I think it could be a big help.”
Many in the city were thrilled by the President’s visit, and stood in line for hours to enter the arena, like Suzy Tice, who volunteered for the event.
"Because I think President Donald J. Trump is the best thing that’s happened to America since Ronald Reagan, because he is fearless and courageous and I support him 100 percent and am so honored to be here."
At least 200 counter protesters showed up to rally against trump outside the expo. Organizers encouraged those there to register to vote and, "grab him by the midterms,” and then dispersed to chant at those leaving, who couldn't get into the arena.
Updated 2:45 p.m.
President Trump is on his way to Great Falls this afternoon to campaign for Republican Senate candidate Matt Rosendale. Crowds of supporters and protesters are on hand to welcome the president.
MTPR reporters Corin Cates-Carney, Nicky Ouellet, Sally Mauk and Nora Saks are on site. Check back here throughout the day for updates from Great Falls.
President Trump is scheduled to speak at 4 p.m.
— Corin Cates-Carney (@clccarney) July 5, 2018
In May President Trump called on Tester to resign after Tester made public allegations from more than 20 members of the Veterans Administration and military that Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Veterans Affairs was unfit for office. Admiral Ronny Jackson then withdrew his nomination.
Tester’s Republican challenger, State Auditor Matt Rosendale will join President Trump in Great Falls.