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Trump rally sinks under weights

Free Press staff, wire reports | 6/17/2016, 12:08 p.m.
Donald Trump was expected to pack the Richmond Coliseum when he visited the city last week. After all, he has ...
Donald J. Trump, the presumptive Republican Party nominee for president, addresses a half-full Richmond Coliseum crowd last Friday during a campaign swing through the battleground state. James Haskins/Richmond Free Press

Donald Trump was expected to pack the Richmond Coliseum when he visited the city last week.

After all, he has packed arenas in other cities.

But in battleground Virginia, and this Democratic-friendly city, the presumptive Republican nominee ended up addressing a half-full building Friday evening.

A Richmond minister who led the rally’s opening prayer estimated that 6,000 to 7,000 people were on hand in a space that can hold up to 13,000 individuals.

Pastor Steven A. Parson Sr., founder and former pastor of the Richmond Christian Center, called the attendance impressive given the “one-day confirmed notice.”

A staunch Trump supporter, Pastor Parson believes more people would have come if much of the advance media coverage had not focused on the likelihood of a heavy police presence aimed at preventing disruption from Trump “protesters,” whom the minister described as “young people who are paid or go by the race card the Democrats have played for years.”

Despite all the talk, only about 200 protesters gathered and there was minimal disruption. Richmond Police reported detaining five people; one for disorderly conduct.

However, for others, the relatively small attendance for the Trump rally could be a signal that interest in the GOP candidate has peaked and could be on the decline, at least in Virginia, a state seen as a must-win for any contender for the presidency.

The Richmond rally took place after Mr. Trump came under fire for bashing the U.S.-born federal judge who is presiding over a fraud case involving the defunct Trump University. Former students are seeking damages, claiming that the for-profit university that Mr. Trump led ripped them off.

Mr. Trump surprised and dismayed a wide swatch of Republicans when he attacked U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel. Mr. Trump’s claim: The judge, the son of Mexican immigrants who was born in East Chicago, Ind., is biased against him because Mr. Trump is promising to build a wall on the southern U.S. border to keep Mexicans from illegally entering the country.

The attack on the judge appeared to be the last straw for a number of GOP party members, who have been not been enthralled by many of the remarks from Mr. Trump, who launched his campaign last year stating Mexicans who cross the border without permission are “criminals and rapists.”

During his free-wheeling speech in Richmond, Mr. Trump doubled down on attacks that others view as racist.

For example, he expressed tongue-in-cheek remorse for calling U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts “Pocahontas,” a jab at a past claim she has made of being part American Indian.

“I’m doing such a disservice to Pocahontas,” Mr. Trump told the crowd.

Sen. Warren, a Democrat whose heritage claim was questioned during her run for the senate in 2012, has been an outspoken Trump critic and is often mentioned as a potential running mate for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

The crowd rewarded his remarks with chants of “Build the wall!” and “USA! USA!”

Outside the Richmond Coliseum, protesters chanted, “No KKK, no fascist USA, no Trump.”