updated: FAIRFIELD, Conn. — The crowd roared at 8:04 p.m. Saturday as the big moment arrived: Donald Trump took to the podium in a hot gymnasium at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield for a presidential campaign rally.
But Trump put aside politics for a minute at the start of the rally as he introduced a Make-A-Wish patient who wanted to meet him. Trump welcomed the teenager, who is now in remission, and his family to the stage for a quick endorsement.
Republicans had eagerly gathered on the swelteringly hot evening to hear from the man who they want to be the next president.
The gym at the William H. Pitt Center gradually filled up as Trump supporters flocked to get to the area closest to the stage, where a Trump-Pence podium was set up in front of a giant U.S. flag.
Trump vowed to put Connecticut in play and win in November, ending a Democratic stronghold since 1988.
Trump brought a hometown message to the Fairfield crowd — repeatedly hammering Gov. Dannel Malloy and Connecticut for General Electric's decision to move its headquarters out of Fairfield to Boston.
Before the rally began, many people were sitting on hallway benches to take a break from standing up on the gym floor after waiting outside in line while temperatures soared to near 100 degrees. The crowd was overwhelmingly white, and tended to skew older although there was a wide range in ages.
Just before 6 p.m. a chant of “USA, USA, USA” erupted from the floor with many people waving their Trump-Pence signs in the air.
Shortly after 6 p.m. the first speakers came on to the stage. There were boisterous renditions of the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem. Then Laurie A. McArdle, one of two Republican members on the three-member Fairfield Board of Selectmen, addressed the crowd.
She spoke of her desire for change, which had prompted her to run for the selectman's position, and she said change is what the country needs.
“I know all of you feel like me that it is time for a change,” she said to cheers from the crowd.
Dan Carter, who is seeking to topple incumbent U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal in November, launched a spirited attack on both Blumenthal and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. He accused both of them as being liars, which drew a huge round of cheers and applause from the crowd.
The gym steamed up as the evening wore on. At about 6:45 p.m., more people poured into the gym, which was already filled with hundreds of cheering supporters. The Trump campaign said loud speakers were set up outside for people who could not gain entry to the gym.
At 7:20 p.m., police escorted at least two people — one of them with a raised and clenched fist — out of the gym to the cheers of the crowd.
A steady trickle of people began to start leaving the sweltering gym about a half-hour into the speech.
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