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Trump's First Visit Draws Crowds, Controversy

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Julia Ritchey
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GOP front-runner Donald Trump made his first appearance in northern Nevada Thursday, attracting a crowd of thousands to downtown Sparks. Reno Public Radio's Julia Ritchey was there and has more.

The bombastic billionaire spoke for more than an hour to a packed ballroom at The Nugget casino, fresh off his third debate appearance in Colorado. 

Trump stuck to familiar talking points, including job creation and his plans to, as he likes to put it, make America great again.

"The American Dream is dead, you know that, right?" said Trump. "The American Dream is dead, but I'm going to make it bigger and better and stronger than ever before."

The candidate tried out some more substantive policy issues, too, like lowering corporate tax rates, reducing the trade imbalance with China and relaxing regulations for small businesses.

But Trump resonated most with the conservative crowd when speaking about immigration, in particular his plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and deport 11 million immigrants here illegally.

"We're going to have a border; we're going to build a wall," he said. "Mexico is going to pay for a wall, we're not paying." 

The Republican claims his policies are popular with Latino voters — even those in the state.

"In Nevada, I'm one with Hispanics ... number one with Hispanics ... and I said that," he said.

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Credit Julia Ritchey
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A mariachi band leads a protest outside the Trump rally in Sparks.

Outside The Nugget, about 35 mostly Latino protestors led by a mariachi band marched around the casino before the rally.

One protestor, Jackeline Duron, is a student at the University of Nevada, Reno, and a member of the Latino Student Advisory Board.

She says Trump's use of incendiary rhetoric about immigrants is harmful and not going to win over the state's 27 percent Latino population.

"We have to show both Nevada, Trump and everyone else that racist comments are dehumanizing to people, especially what he said about Mexican-Americans and Mexican immigrants," she says. "They already experience so much hate and violence toward them because of their immigration status."

Although recent polls have shown Trump flagging behind rival outsider candidate Ben Carson, his popularity has not waned among voters disenfranchised with the Washington establishment.

Jim Charlton from Mound House, Nevada attended the rally with his dog Fiasco. He says he likes Trump's outspokenness.

"So my ideal ticket right now would be Trump-Carson. Carson for VP," he says.

Supporter Jennifer Williams and her husband drove almost three hours from Austin, Nevada to attend the rally.

"I think the United States needs somebody strong and tough," she says. "Things have been tough in Congress for awhile.  I think he has the leadership and strength to be there."

“I think that the people who are attending today are frightened, are misguided and are motivated by fear.”

That’s Bob Fulkerson, one of the organizers of the protest, who says Trump is playing to the economic anxieties of mostly white, working-class voters.

Pundits disagree on Trump's staying power, but local political analyst Fred Lokken says he believes the reality-star-turned-politician will make it through the primaries.

"I think he has made so many inroads in the Republican party, in the three months he's been on top of the polls, that he's succeeded in institutionalizing himself," says Lokken.

According to Lokken, the last time an outsider candidate did this well was when Ronald Reagan ran for president in 1980.

Julia Ritchey is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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