MURPHYSBORO – People who attended a visit by President Donald Trump to Southern Illinois on Oct. 27 and a “Taxpayer Revolt” held on Oct. 24 in Collinsville said they were energized by large crowds that gathered for both.
“It was rowdy and packed,” James Berres told the Record in describing the crowd who came to see Trump, but added that the gathering was also well-mannered.
Trump appeared at the Southern Illinois Airport Hangar 6 in Murphysboro to support the re-election bid of Republican U.S. Rep Mike Bost, for the 12th U.S. Congressional District seat against rival Brendan Kelly, a Democrat and St. Clair County state's attorney.
Berres, a retired U.S. Air Force veteran now employed as a contractor at Scott Air Force Base said the event for Bost was the first time he had seen a U.S. president up close.
An organizer of the Taxpayer Revolt Rally estimated the crowd between 300-400.
“As he approached the podium I was about 20 feet from him,” Berres said. “He was so personable. He would recognize someone and stop, make eye contact and wave. He kept doing this.”
Berres estimated the crowd at the airport to be about 12,000 people.
“There was seating outside the hangar and room for overflow crowd,” he said.
Protesters appeared to be few, although Berres said some attendees were seen carrying Mexican flags.
“So much of the media has been negative about how people hate Trump, it was refreshing to be with so many like-minded (pro-Trump) people having a good time,” Berres said. “There were people from all walks of life, kids, teens, middle-aged people like myself. There were elderly people in wheelchairs and half the crowd were women.”
Berres said Trump talked about the successes of the past two years, the need for tax reform, and bringing jobs back to the steel industry in Illinois.
“That’s an important issue here in Southern Illinois,” Berres said.
Ashton Hess, a student at O’Fallon Township High School in O’Fallon and a founder of the school’s Young Conservatives Club, said he sat near Trump behind the speaker’s podium. He had received a VIP pass in recognition of his work for the “Bost for Congress” campaign.
“There were so many people there you couldn’t count them,” Hess told the Record. “The building was packed and the streets all around were lined with cars."
Hess said Trump gave a good speech touching on the economy and immigration policy including the issue of the Central American caravan, a group of migrants hoping to reach the U.S. by fleeing poverty and disorder in Honduras.
Political consultant Travis Akin went to the Trump rally and compared the mood of the crowd to Game 5 of the 2006 World Series when the St. Louis Cardinals won the title in a 4-2 win over the Detroit Tigers.
"That was thrilling," Akin said. "But this (rally) was at another level. People stood in line for hours, and at the end of the day they were best friends."
He said he's been to state and national political conventions, but the excitement he observed on Saturday was unlike anything he'd seen before.
"It was a long day," he said. "But the weather was perfect. It was great."
At the "Taxpayer Revolt Rally” held at American Legion Post 365 in Collinsville, Berres said it attracted a “who’s-who” of conservative candidates for office in several Southern Illinois counties. The event was hosted by Annie Frey, a conservative-issues radio talk show host who broadcasts for FM NewsTalk 97.1.
Organizers said the rally was held to give voice to people fed up with runaway taxation in Illinois.
Berres estimated the crowd at about 300 although unlike the Trump event; most in the audience appeared to be older people.
“At the Taxpayer Revolt you had candidates appearing who are running for U.S. Congress and Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner,” Berres said. “Just about anyone (Republican) who is running for local office was there.”
Rauner, a Republican and the incumbent since 2014, will square off against Pritzker on Nov. 6. He talked about the need for tax reform in Illinois, Berres said.
Also appearing was Bost and John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, an incumbent running for the 15th District against Democrat challenger Kevin Gaither, a self-employed tutor from Charleston.
Bost spoke on the possibility of the three new proposed taxes in the state should Democrats win and the need to maintain conservative control of the U.S. Congress so that values embodied by the right would not get overturned by liberals.
Jason Madlock of Centreville, Republican running for the 114th House District, asked the crowd at the taxpayer revolt, "By a show of hands, who wants a tax increase? Nobody?...That alone should be enough for you to bring family members, co-workers to vote. That's enough right there."