Elections

On Hilton Head, fans of all ages clamor for Donald Trump

Video: Trump supporters, detractors on why they wanted to hear him speak on Hilton Head

Thousands of people stood in line for hours to hear Donald Trump speak during a campaign rally at the Westin Hilton Head Resort & Spa on Wednesday for a variety of different reasons. Island Packet photographer Delayna Earley asked a handful of th
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Thousands of people stood in line for hours to hear Donald Trump speak during a campaign rally at the Westin Hilton Head Resort & Spa on Wednesday for a variety of different reasons. Island Packet photographer Delayna Earley asked a handful of th
Chase Farrell may not have been the youngest Donald Trump fan in line to see him Wednesday, but he certainly stood out.

The fifth-grader from Savannah wore the black "Make America Great Again" hat he had picked out at Trump Tower in New York and carried a copy of Trump's book "Crippled America" he hoped the businessman turned Republican presidential candidate would sign.

Chase and classmates Garrett and Thomas Griffin had traveled from Savannah to Shelter Cove Community Park to take a shuttle to the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa for Trump's campaign rally. Although the fifth-graders won't be able to vote until long after the 2016 elections, they're excited about Trump.

"We like what Trump has to say," Garrett Griffin said.

So much so that they were willing to wake extra early to attend the rally.

"It's the earliest they've been up all Christmas break," Garrett's father, Will Griffin, said. "They took no convincing."

Hundreds gathered at the old Shelter Cove park Wednesday to take shuttles to the rally. Some were there a full four hours before Trump, who was delayed, would eventually appear. The rally attracted Trump fans of all ages, including others like Chase and his friends who were too young to cast a ballot.

If 16-year-old Mikayla Walters of Myrtle Beach could vote, there was no question she would pick Trump, she said.

"If I was older than that, I'd marry him," she said.

Walters and her family drove four hours Wednesday morning to be at the rally.

"He speaks his mind and says what people are afraid to say," she said. "He's going to get rid of people who don't belong here and are taking American jobs, and he's going to bomb ISIS."

Pierce Pliapol of Daytona, Fla., will be able to vote in next November's election after turning 18 on Dec. 20. Waiting in line with his aunt Donna Zigelstein and cousin Alisyn Zigelstein of Hilton Head, Pliapol carried a handmade sign that read, "America's Students Need Trump."

Donna Zigelstein said her nephew and his family came to Hilton Head for Christmas, but they surprised Pliapol with the news about Trump as a birthday gift.

"It was bigger than Christmas," she said.

TRAVELING FOR TRUMP

Many of the attendees headed to the Westin were local residents. Others, like Tom O'Reilly of Punta Gorda, Fla., had made it a point to travel to Hilton Head to see Trump.

For O'Reilly, Wednesday's rally was the third Trump event he had attended, after ones in Jacksonville and Sarasota, Fla. On Saturday, O'Reilly and his wife plan to travel to Biloxi, Miss., for Trump's next rally.

Formerly a Democratic state senator in Maryland, it may seem surprising that O'Reilly would support Trump, but O'Reilly said Trump is a special candidate.

"He's for America," he said. "... He speaks to the large segment of the population that isn't brainwashed by the media."

Ellis and Elliott Phillips of Richmond Hill, Ga., had a shorter commute than the O'Reilly's. The two wore "Make America Great Again" hats they had purchased in New York at Trump Tower a few weeks ago. Ellis also wore a Trump mask with his hat.

"We're diehard Trump fans," he said. "We're the real deal."

Some in line Wednesday were vacationing on the island, driven to attend by good timing and curiosity.

Bruce Dinopoulos' family typically vacations on Hilton Head between Christmas and New Year's -- perfect timing to see Trump. Dinopoulos, of Calvert County, Md., said he and his family weren't Trump fans, but were interested in the spectacle after seeing Trump's rallies on TV.

"We're here for the show," he said. "Hopefully, Trump says something outrageous."

While they waited for the shuttle, Dinopoulos and his wife, Megan, purchased buttons that read, "Hillary for Prison 2016," finding them humorous.

The vendor Dinopoulos purchased the buttons from was one of three set up along the sidewalk on Shelter Cove Lane hawking Trump apparel and accessories to people in line. The three vendors have been traveling around the country to sell their wares at Trump events.

Vendor Tim Engelskirchen of Charlotte said he has followed presidential campaigns selling merchandise since 2008, and one of his best days came at Trump's campaign stop in Manassas, Va. He raked in over $14,000.

So far, no candidate on the Democratic side has come close to matching Trump fever.

"We did a few Bernie Sanders events, but there is not a lot of money on the Democratic side yet," he said.

One of Engelskirchen's customers put it best:

"Trump isn't just a candidate, he's a phenomenon."

Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.

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