ERIE, Pa. — A capacity crowd in Erie Insurance Arena Wednesday night were on their feet for hours awaiting the arrival of President Donald Trump — but they didn’t sit in their seats when the 45th president came out on stage, either.
Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American” started to play as the president walked onto the stage — the screaming and cheering was deafening.
Some audience members shook with emotions, while tears streamed down many faces.
“Hello, Pennsylvania, how are you?” Trump asked the crowd. The audience went wild.
“Tonight we are going to discuss the extraordinary achievements we have made in less than two years,” the president said. As the crowd cheered, Trump smiled out over the audience, saying, “All those beautiful red hats.”
The crowd was a virtual sea of red Make America Great Again hats, along with signs in support of Trump or other Republican candidates from Pennsylvania.
“As we continue building an even greater future for all Americans,” he said, before gesturing to the press pool, “you know these folks will dispute us.”
He added, “It’s the greatest revolution to ever take place in this country.”
Trump acknowledged the hurricane at the top of his rally, offering his "thoughts and prayers" to those in the storm's path and promising to "spare no effort" in the response. He promised to travel to Florida "very shortly."
Trump talked about his election night victory, and said the victory came because of the people who came out in droves to support him. “You won; it’s yours.”
Tremendous cheers rang out from the folks who happily referred to themselves as “the deplorables” at the event.
Trump touched on multiple topics, from newly seated Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — “what the radical Democrats did to Brett Kavanaugh and his beautiful family was a national disgrace” — to low unemployment rates and rise in manufacturing.
“America is booming, America is thriving, America is winning like never before because we are putting America first,” the president said, again to deafening cheers.
“Big things are happening,” he said.
“Remember the previous administration said you can’t bring back manufacturing jobs?” he said. “They said you’d need a magic wand. Well, I guess we had one.
“We are unleashing the power of Pennsylvania shale and clean, beautiful Pennsylvania coal,” Trump continued. “We are putting our miners back to work, we are putting our steelworkers back to work.”
Putting America first is how this is done, the president said.
“After years of rebuilding other nations, we are finally rebuilding our nation,” he said.
He mentioned Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., who had spoken earlier in the evening and is seeking re-election this fall. Trump said Thompson is “a man who has helped me with many things.”
The president brought up Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, Lou Barletta.
He had some choice words for Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, Barletta’s opponent, and some praise for Trump.
“The economy is so good even Colin Kaepernick found a job,” Barletta said, to the crowd’s delight.
“You now have a champion fighting for you in the White House,” Trump said after retaking the podium, urging the crowd to vote Republican in the Nov. 6 election. “Stop the radical Democrat mob from trying to take it away.”
Again, deafening cheers resounded.
“Respect our Constitution. Respect the heroes of law enforcement and vote Republican,” he yelled over the crowd’s cheers.
A contingent of 17 people from Bradford went together to the event, and were on the floor in front of Trump’s podium, about seven rows back. Mayor Tom Riel was among the group.
“It was great,” Riel said late Wednesday. “It was a great crowd and very energized. Bradford was very well represented in the VIP section and throughout the arena.”
Residents of Cattaraugus and Allegany counties in New York state attended as well.
McKean County District Attorney Stephanie Vettenburg-Shaffer also was there.
“I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see a U.S. president speak,” she said. “Trump’s speech placed great emphasis on manufacturing jobs and support for law enforcement — two areas that are important to our county.”
She continued, ”Throughout his speech he made several references to ‘our great law enforcement.’ As the district attorney, I felt proud of his recognition for the officers when ridicule of police seems prevalent in our society. With the increase in the use of body cams, in the last few weeks I’ve had the unpleasant experience of watching our officers screamed at with vulgarity, threatened and spit on. Recognition of officers and for the often unpleasant job they perform was appropriate.”
She added, “Overall this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and the vibe was patriotic.”
As the crowd filed out of the arena, some were cheering still, others were wiping away tears. All were smiling, laughing and excited. While there were several messages of caution broadcast regarding protests, none were inside the event.
An anti-Trump rally drew about 300 protesters a few blocks from the arena earlier Wednesday evening.