EVANSVILLE — President Donald Trump played to his base in the heartland Thursday during a "Make America Great Again" rally in Evansville, touting a robust economy, a hard stance against illegal immigration and, yes, jabs against the media.

While stumping for Senate hopeful Mike Braun, who is locked in a dogfight with incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly, Trump made it clear to a packed house at the Ford Center downtown that "we are America and our hearts bleed red, white and blue."

Trump bolstered his support for Braun by touting his administration’s successes: job growth, the economy, border security, renegotiating foreign trade deals, cutting regulations, increasing military spending and implementing tax cuts.

Trump, who is on an aggressive campaign tour of the country ahead of the November mid-term election, labeled Democrats "obstructionists," and that "every day they are resisting the will of the American people and trying to undermine the verdict of our Democracy delivered so strongly in 2016 like never before."

"The most remarkable thing about the Democratic party," Trump added, "is how truly undemocratic they have become."

In a wide-ranging speech that included asides into anecdotes, ranging from meeting a group of nine coal miners backstage — eight of whom were "crying out of happiness because we're back" — to receiving a call from former Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight urging him to run for president, Trump rallied the Republican base in a plea for votes.

He did so by touting success, including what he called "the best economy in the history of our country." Trump claimed that wages are up 3.8 percent, nearly four million jobs have been created, four million people have been taken off "food stamps" and 500,000 manufacturing jobs have been added.

"Nobody thought that was going to happen," Trump said about the economy.

Not everyone shared Trump's optimism.

Mike Oles, an Indianapolis-based field director for Good Jobs Nation, a Washington, D.C.-based group organizing workers against Trump, was in Evansville to “hold President Trump accountable," along with more than a dozen people from Kansas City, Elkhart, South Bend and Youngstown, Ohio.

“He made some pretty strong claims that he was going to fight for workers, that he was going to fight for good jobs, good wages. Eighteen months into his presidency, Labor Day 2018, he has failed to live up to those promises,” he said.

Whether Trump was pointing out successes or pointing fingers, the thousands of supporters inside the Ford Center regularly broke into applause.

“What I appreciate the most is his personality is a lot like mine,” said 52-year-old Traci Honaker of Terre Haute, before the rally. “We’re both take-charge people and we’re straight up and real. That’s what I love most about him – his realness and his compassion and his love for the people.”

Cole Buchanan, 20, a small business owner, echoed that appreciation.

“I know he tweets a lot,” she said. “I kind of like that he speaks his mind. He’s not afraid to say what he’s thinking.”

Dozens showed up to protest, a tiny minority in a sea of Trump supporters. One protester was escorted out of the Ford Center, with Trump asking, “Where the hell did she come from?”

Trump reinforced his stance on immigration reform, saying the Justice Department and the FBI "has to start doing their job and doing it now," and referred to those entering the country illegally as gangs.

"I'm happy to see somebody who's proud to put America first," said Jose Cruz, whose parents came to the U.S. from Cuba in the 1950s. "I hate the hyphen. We're all Americans."

Protesters dotted areas outside the Ford Center. Jennifer Douglas, 68, of Evansville, was one of about 40 other protesters voicing their opposition to the President ahead of Thursday's rally.

Douglas said she takes issue with Trump's "lack of integrity and his competency to hold the office." But what really concerns her, she said, is how the President views people different from herself.

"...he doesn't seem to like people that are different from him, whether it's the female sex or whether it's people of other colors or whether it's people that are less wealthy than him," Douglas said. "And I have a problem with that because as the leader of our country he should be bringing us all together and he's supposed to be everyone's President."

Those inside the Ford Center certainly counted Trump as their President, and Trump returned the favor, beginning with Hoosier ancestry.

"They were proud Americans and together they turned Indiana into a powerhouse of American people and American ingenuity," he said. "They didn't have a lot of money, they didn't have a lot of luxury but they loved their families and they loved their God.

"We stand on the shoulders of generations of American patriots who knew how to work, knew how to fight ... and knew how to win. Just like them we're going to keep on fighting, we're going to keep on winning, we're going to win for our nation, our children, our families and for our freedom."

Assistant Editor | Editor of SoIn, a weekly entertainment, culture and lifestyle section that publishes every Thursday | Editor of Southern Indiana Fitness Source magazine, a monthly glossy focusing on fitness, health, nutrition and wellness

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