President Donald Trump told a crowd of thousands in a Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport hangar Friday night that a vote for U.S. Senate candidate Martha McSally would be the “second-best vote you ever cast.” The greatest vote was for him, he said.

Trump had crisscrossed metro Phoenix Friday to stump for McSally, culminating in the rally.

The president said McSally will “protect your jobs, defend your borders and continue making America great again.” And he reminded the crowd that early voting already has begun in Arizona.

“If anybody would like to leave and go out to vote, I don’t mind at all,” Trump said.

McSally faces Democrat Kyrsten Sinema in the race for U.S. Senate. Trump had referred to McSally as “brilliant” earlier in the day, while calling Sinema a “very, very strange opponent.”

At the rally, Trump touched on many familiar themes – tightening border security, improving health care and “draining the swamp.”

McSally took the stage and told the president: “I just want to let you know, we are not crazy here. Unlike what my opponent said, we are not the meth lab of democracy.”

Bill Burke, who described Trump as his hero, attended his first Trump rally. After, he said Trump was long overdue in America.

“I’ve been wanting a president like this for 35 years,” he said. “I was wondering where they were, and we finally ended up with a great one with a backbone of stainless steel.”

In response to Trump’s visit, Sinema told reporters that Arizonans “don’t care about big fancy names” from outside. They care about health care.

The race has attracted national attention, and Democrats have cited it as an opportunity to shift the power balance in Congress.

Friday’s rally comes as a Democratic senatorial seat appears to be a real possibility. A poll released Friday by Data Orbital had Sinema with a slight lead. The telephone survey included 600 voters, according to the group. Previous polls show the candidates locked in a neck-and-neck battle.

Earlier in the day, Trump went from a fundraiser in Scottsdale to a tour of Luke Air Force Base in Glendale before heading to the “Make America Great” rally.

Thousands of people had lined up in Mesa as dawn broke Friday.

Jay Cole of Mesa, a Trump rally veteran, said for these events, it’s best to leave before dawn to be among the first in line.

“I like to be in the front so I can get front row seats so I can be close to him,” Cole said, adding that hearing the president speak would be worth the long wait.

His brother, Tim Cole, was attending his first Trump rally. He’s said he wasn’t sure what to expect, but he was game.

“I’ve never met or been around the president or any president, so I thought it would be fun,” he said.

By 1 p.m., the line snaked around the building, owned by a private air-services provider, where the rally was scheduled. Mesa police said about 1,000 people were waiting but called it a rough estimate.

One of those was Teresa Mendoza, a Mesa resident and a member of the Latinas for Trump national group. She said she was a longtime Democrat but became a Republican after Trump was elected.

“The Democrats are out of control,” she said. “Now I’m not only an ex-Democrat, I’ll never vote Democrat again. He turned me into a Trumpster.”

She attended Trump’s Phoenix rally last year, which led to Phoenix police using tear gas and pepper-spray bullets on protesters after the rally. The Phoenix chapter of the ACLU has filed a class action lawsuit, saying police overreacted.

But Mendoza said she hopes police would use force again if protesters act irrationally. What brought her to this rally, she said, is seeing people of all backgrounds supporting Trump’s values.

A few hundred people gathered in the “Free Speech Zone” outside the hangar during the rally. Some were protesters, others were supporters who could not get into the event.

The president had arrived late Thursday night at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and headed directly to the Scottsdale Princess resort.

McSally had announced Trump’s tour of Luke during a debate on Monday night that aired on Arizona PBS.

While the president worked, so did Mike Harris, 55, a vendor from San Antonio who has attended rallies consistently since 2016. The Mesa rally is his 54th, he said.

“I wasn’t even a Trump follower in the beginning,” Harris said. “Now that I’ve seen the change in the economy, it changed my mind.”

Harris has also attended rallies for political parties, including a Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. “I like to know both sides.”

Many people buying buttons, shirts and other Trump gear are from out of state, he said.


Cronkite News reporters Jennifer Alvarez, Gabriella Bachara, Micah Alise Bledsoe, Jordan Dafnis, Jordan Evans, Adriana Falero, Samie Gebers, Anya Magnuson, Nicole Neri, Karisma Sandoval and Beichen Tong contributed to this article.