President Donald Trump used his campaign stop in northern Nevada over the weekend to slam Democrats and sow doubt about the integrity of the election.
Marking his first campaign rally in Nevada since the start of the pandemic, Trump was greeted by several thousand mostly maskless supporters who crowded onto the small runway of the Minden-Tahoe Airport in Douglas County.
“Beautiful. What a crowd this one is,” Trump said, “You've got thousands and thousands of people outside. They’re taking buses here.”
Trump spoke for about 90 minutes and used his time to criticize Democrats, accusing them of using mail-in voting to rig the election. In particular, he took aim at a new state law that requires a ballot be sent to all active registered voters ahead of the election.
Repeating several unsubstantiated claims that mail-in-voting leads to increased voter fraud, Trump all but told his supporters to expect invalid results this November.
“They’re trying to rig an election, and we can’t let that happen,” Trump said. “I hope you’re all going to be poll watchers. I hope you are because with you people watching the polls, it’s going to be pretty hard to cheat. I'll tell ya, I wouldn’t want to be a cheater. They’ll figure a way, no, they are; it’s a very dangerous thing.”
Trump also blamed Democrats for the civil and racial unrest sparked by the death of George Floyd, a Black Minnesota man who died while a white police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes earlier this summer. Trump has made 'law and order' a centerpiece of his campaign in recent weeks. He went as far as to falsely say his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, supports the riots despite Biden repeatedly condemning the violence.
“He’ll never be able to protect your family, your loved ones or your community. If Biden’s elected, his radical supporters won’t just cause mayhem on the streets like you're seeing,” Trump said.
With a little more than seven weeks until the election, the rally comes at a pivotal time in the campaign. Republicans have had their sights set on Nevada since 2016 when President Trump narrowly lost the state to Hillary Clinton by less than two-and-a-half points.
But Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald said it’s going to take a concerted effort.
“You have to unite together to make sure we take back Nevada,” McDonald said. “This is not an election, ladies and gentlemen. We are at war. We’re at war for democracy. This is what it’s about."
Recent polling suggests Biden has a four-point lead on Trump in Nevada, but that’s still within the poll’s margin of error, giving many supporters hope the president can retake the Silver State.
Trump has also worked hard to energize his base ahead of the election, and that might be crucial. While Democrats hold registration advantages in Nevada’s two largest counties, Clark and Washoe, Republicans dominate the rest of the state. That work was evident Saturday as thousands traveled to Douglas County to be a part of the event.
Gardnerville local Matthew Crittenden said he couldn’t sleep the night before because he was so excited to see Trump.
“It was like waiting for Christmas day. Everything that he's been through, he's been put down, shut down, and then he comes and says, 'No, we're going to come to Nevada,' and for him to choose our community is more than an honor,” Crittenden said.
Trump’s “law and order” message also seemed to resonate with rally-goers. In recent weeks, the president has painted almost all Black Lives Matter demonstrations as violent despite evidence to the contrary.
According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, 93% of BLM demonstrators have not engaged in violence or destructive activity.
Jynaia Williams, a mother of five from Sacramento, said the police have a job to do and that the BLM movement should shift its focus.
“For me, as a woman of color, I think that they need to focus on education for the Black community,” Williams said. “Where can we fix this? Let's not riot. Let's go to the schools and check on Black kids and communities to make sure they're getting an education. Let's make sure that Black kids push for A's instead of just minor grades.”
Williams wasn’t the only supporter to travel from California for the rally. Thousands made the trek over the Sierra to support the president.
Of course, Trump has virtually no chance of winning California this November. The country’s most populated state has long been considered a Democratic-stronghold. That’s actually one of the reasons why Steve Lopez moved from California to Reno a couple of years ago. While he didn’t support Trump in 2016, he’s an ardent supporter now.
“I did not vote for Trump in the last election, but since then, he has proven himself to me,” Lopez said. “I regret having not voted for him. At the time I lived in California, so it wouldn't have mattered anyway because it's a liberal utopia, but here it matters, and so I will absolutely be voting.”
Democrats have won Nevada in the last three presidential elections due largely in part to their voter turn-out operations. If the president hopes to flip the Silver State, he’ll likely have to rely on the enthusiasm of his base.
Ty O’Neil is a freelance photojournalist working for This Is Reno and contributed to this story.