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Nation & World

Donald Trump Holds First Post-Presidency Rally In Support Of Congressional Candidate

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The last time Donald Trump held a political rally was on January 6, the day a mob supporting him attacked the U.S. Capitol. But yesterday, he was on the campaign trail again on behalf of a congressional candidate challenging a Republican who voted to impeach Trump. It was also his first rally as an ex-president. NPR's Don Gonyea reports from Wellington, Ohio.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: It is just past 6 in the morning here outside the Lorain County Fairgrounds. I can tell you, having been to a lot of Trump events, this feels very different than a presidential event. There is less security. There are not nearly as many people here. But there are some people who got here very early, and let's talk to some of them.

Let's get your name, if we may.

MIKE BOATMAN: Mike Boatman - B-O-A-T-M-A-N.

GONYEA: Mike Boatman, a truck driver from Indiana, has actually been here six days, staking out a spot at the front of the line. He's been to many Trump rallies. I ask him how different this one feels - no Air Force One, no presidential motorcade. He says it's still Trump, and people are going to come see him.

BOATMAN: I mean, anywhere he's goes, he's going to draw big crowds anywhere. I mean, this is small-town America right here.

GONYEA: Behind him, his friends crowd in for a big group selfie. They don't say cheese, instead shouting the falsehood that Trump won.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: OK. Here we go. One, two, three.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Trump won (cheering).

GONYEA: At this early hour, a couple hundred people are lined up, including 31-year-old Kristen Kinal, who just finished her schooling to be a physical therapist. She says she never really paid attention to politics until the Trump presidency.

KRISTEN KINAL: So I'm here. I want to see him. I want to meet him. He gives me hope because it's scary that he's not our president right now.

GONYEA: But she's also not plugged into politics beyond Trump, and she acknowledges not even being aware that Trump is here to help Max Miller, a GOP challenger looking to knock off local Republican Congressman Anthony Gonzalez, who voted to impeach Trump.

How much are you paying attention to next year's vote, the midterm, not the next presidential one but the next one?

KINAL: Not much.

GONYEA: Do you know who Max Miller is?

KINAL: Nope.

GONYEA: You're going to hear about Max Miller.

KINAL: Yeah. I know. I think I like him, right? He's good. He's - it's good for us.

GONYEA: Now, we're still 11 hours before the start of the rally, and we're out in a field where cars are parking. There's a banner over there on top of an old school bus that says, Q sent me - lots of derogatory things about President Biden. Another big thing about this rally, no big anti-Trump protests, a common sight at past Trump events. The rally itself began early evening. The crowd had grown into the thousands. Trump made his entrance in very familiar fashion, starting with this song by Lee Greenwood.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOD BLESS THE USA")

LEE GREENWOOD: (Singing) I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free.

GONYEA: Trump wore his signature blue suit and extra-long red tie.

DONALD TRUMP: Do you miss me? They miss me.

(CHEERING)

GONYEA: To say the speech was familiar is an understatement. There was his insistence on the lie that the 2020 election was stolen and that he won.

TRUMP: We won the election twice, and it's possible we'll have to win it a third time. It's possible.

(CHEERING)

GONYEA: It's a tease we can expect to hear over and over and over from Trump in the months and years between now and 2024. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Lorain County, Ohio.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.