Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump fired up a rowdy crowd of thousands of supporters in Baton Rouge on Thursday night.
The boisterous New York billionaire had nearly 10,000 people rolling through a steady cycle of waving signs, cheering for veterans and tax cuts, and booing politicians — in particular, Trump’s rivals for the GOP nomination.
“Politicians are all talk and no actions,” Trump told the packed Baton Rouge River Center arena. “These politicians — the blood suckers, I call them the blood suckers — we’ve got to get rid of them.”
Trump, who made his money in real estate and rose to fame through reality television, held his first campaign rally in Louisiana, fresh off a decisive win in the New Hampshire primary.
He urged supporters to head to the polls when Louisiana votes in the presidential primary March 5.
“This is an amazing crowd,” he said, frequently calling out to people.
Trump took the River Center stage about an hour later than expected — but the delay wasn’t his fault.
About 10,000 people turned out for the event. Trump, who is known for his hyperbole, claimed that there were 5,000 more outside when the event was supposed to start.
“Is this a normal situation?” Trump asked in jest, drawing loud cheers from the crowd.
Trump is just the latest presidential candidate to eye Louisiana as the primary nears. Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich is the only major candidate remaining who hasn’t had a campaign rally or large fundraiser here.
But none have come close to the crowd Trump attracted.
He frequently played up to the spectators, many of them dressed in Trump-themed attire of red, white and blue.
Slidell resident Stephanie Anctil waited in line for more than three hours to ensure she’d get a good seat with a clear view of Trump.
Already clad in a Trump T-shirt, Anctil bought a Trump pin to put on her American flag-decorated hat and a scarf outside the River Center embroidered with Trump’s logo and his famous slogan: “Make America Great Again.”
“He’s honest and straightforward, and no one can buy him,” she said.
Anctil said she wasn’t involved in politics until Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor-turned-GOP vice presidential candidate, hit the national scene. But she supported Trump before Palin’s recent endorsement.
“We have to do something to turn this country around again,” she said.
Anctil said she used to live in Texas and was a supporter of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who also is seeking the GOP nomination and recently has sparred with Trump on the campaign trail.
“Not anymore,” she said. “I no longer care for him.”
Anctil cited several of Trump’s recent criticisms of Cruz as the reasons for her change of mind — including claims that Cruz’s campaign led an effort to convince Iowa caucusgoers that Dr. Ben Carson had suspended his campaign and that they should caucus for Cruz instead.
“(Cruz) cheated in Iowa,” she said.
Two women dressed in bright-red feather boas and red, blue and silver crowns grabbed seats in the lower level, in the section directly in front of Trump.
“He is a male version of me — except for the money,” said Robin Haynes, of Gonzalez. “I love what he stands for. He’s honest, and he puts it out there.”
Haynes said her son is a disabled veteran.
“I know (veterans) will be his No. 1 priority,” she said.
Hayes’ similarly dressed friend, Linda Riley, of Denham Springs, said she hasn’t been involved much politically in the past.
“This is my first time to be excited about a candidate,” she said.
Trump’s brash persona that many have criticized is exactly what has pumped her up for the election.
“He is not politically correct,” Riley said. “He speaks his mind, and he stands for what it will take to make America great again.”
Trump announced his Louisiana leadership team last month and promised he’d soon be stumping in the Bayou State.
Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta and former state Rep. Woody Jenkins are serving as Team Trump’s Louisiana chairmen, and Jeff Crouere and Brian Trascher have been named state co-chairmen.
Both Jenkins and Skrmetta revved up the Trump crowd before he took the stage.
“How does it feel to be a part of making history?” Jenkins asked the crowd.
Last month, Trump’s campaign rally in Biloxi, Mississippi, drew an estimated 15,000 people. The 10,000 that turned out in Baton Rouge was a near-capacity crowd.
Louisiana voters will head to the polls March 5 to cast ballots in the Republican and Democratic presidential primaries.
The GOP has 46 primary delegates up for grabs in Louisiana. Only voters who are registered Republican will be able to cast ballots in the GOP primary.