Gary Hotovec signed up for a long day. He woke up at 4:30 a.m., ate a bowl of Rice Krispies and drove to Willmar, Minn., to board a charter bus headed for downtown Minneapolis, where President Trump was scheduled to speak at a rally Thursday evening.
“I just felt this was a great opportunity to see this president,” said Hotovec, of Danube, Minn. “I think he has just turned this whole country around, almost single-handedly.”
Hotovec made the trip with friends Jim and Dianne Zenk of Olivia, Minn. Dianne Zenk said she’s watched Trump rallies on TV. “I think they look so much fun,” she said.
The Zenks are retired farmers. They switched from being Democrats to Republicans in the late 1990s because of regulations affecting their hog business. Since then, Jim Zenk said it seems to him as though Democrats are moving further and further to the left.
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"This is a turning point. We either remain a capitalist country or we become socialists. I could see Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders converting us to socialism right away,” he said. “We're not ready for that."
Hotovec, the Zenks and their few dozen fellow bus riders — who boarded the bus in Willmar, Litchfield and Montrose — packed lunches, lawn chairs and rain ponchos, anticipating a long wait in line to enter the Target Center.
Doors weren't scheduled to open for attendees until 4 p.m., but state Republican Party officials recommended people be in line by 10 a.m., so the bus organizers decided to leave Willmar about two hours earlier than they had originally planned.
After arriving in downtown Minneapolis, the group walked several blocks to the end of the line to get into the rally, which snaked through several skyways and outside a parking ramp.
"I'm exhausted," said bus organizer Karen Kaufenberg of Spicer, Minn. Kaufenberg said she was up until 1:30 a.m. Thursday figuring out logistics. But she said it was worth it.
"It felt good. It felt energizing — other people sharing the same feelings you have,” she said. “You listen to the news, and it's really sad to hear all this negativity and [all] that. We don't need that. I just wish we could work together more. It just seems to get worse instead of better."
Kaufenberg said this is her first-ever political rally. She hopes it ends on a positive note.