WILDWOOD - What would normally be a quiet, peaceful late January Tuesday in Wildwood, will be an historic day, as the beach town readies to welcome President Donald Trump Jan. 28.
This is the first time a sitting American president has visited Wildwood, and the first time Cape May County has played host since 1891, when President Benjamin Harrison visited Cape May, said Wildwood Mayor Peter Byron, in an interview with the Herald.
“I couldn’t have choreographed it any better,” Byron said of his first month on the job.
Trump announced his plans Jan. 6 to come to the Wildwoods Convention Center for a rally, following up on a promise he made to U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2nd), who recently joined the Republican Party, and pledged “undying support” to Trump after voting against impeaching the president, per media reports.
Trump promised Van Drew that he would visit the congressman’s Second Congressional District, which includes Cape May County.
Byron learned Trump was coming Jan. 6 in a call from someone who had spoken with event organizers, he said.
The county was abuzz late Monday and Tuesday (Jan. 6-7), as word spread of the visit. One grocery worker said, “He’s coming, did you hear?” to a customer while bagging groceries in Court House. At convenience stores and water coolers across the area Jan. 7, the conversation centered around one subject.
Tickets for the event, offered free on Trump’s website, were available as of Jan. 10, though it is unclear if having a ticket would guarantee entry into the event.
“The Convention Center seats 7,500 people, and you could easily have 25,000 people here in town, so not everyone that’s got a ticket is going to get into the Convention Center, at least in my opinion,” Byron said.
An email to Trump’s press office was not returned.
While Trump’s visit is tied to Van Drew’s switch, his reason for choosing Wildwood over other towns in the district remains a question.
In the 2016 election, Trump won more votes in Wildwood than Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, but by a relatively narrow margin, 860 to 779. The margin grows, 3,541 to 2,107, if all of the Wildwoods are included.
“This is Van Drew’s bread-and-butter territory down in the south end down here, and why not Wildwood?” asked Byron. “Wildwood is a great place, and I think this will be more beneficial to Congressman Van Drew, probably, than to the president.”
Van Drew did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Colin O’Brien, of Court House, surmised that the president had one less option to worry about when considering where to go – Atlantic City.
“How can you sit on the rubble of your three failed casinos and sit on the money that you’ve built off of everybody and then say you’re going to bring something back to Southern New Jersey,” O’Brien said. “That’s too hypocritical, even for him.”
Atlantic City’s historic Boardwalk Hall holds 10,000-plus, and the Atlantic City Convention Center would have been another possibility. They sit within Van Drew’s district, in a city where Trump has a lot of history.
“Trump built money off of contractors, suppliers, and investors for years with three casinos that all failed in Atlantic City. People lost billions, and he walked away with millions,” O’Brien said. “It shocks me, and I take pause that the people of Southern New Jersey have glanced over that, or whatever they have decided. He affected this area so negatively, and they are going to embrace him when he gets back.”
Social Media Reaction
“The president loves to use social media. That was pretty much the way everybody found out about it,” Byron said.
The Herald’s Facebook post announcing the visit received over 500 comments. Reactions were mixed, with some sharing the information with friends and posting #TRUMP2020. Others spoke against the visit.
Betsy Murphy wrote, “We don’t want Trump in Cape May County.” Her comment garnered a lot of support.
“This is wonderful. Thank you, Mr. Trump,” John King wrote. “You are awesome. You say what you mean and mean what you say. What an example.” His comment also received a lot of reaction.
It’s no secret that Trump is a polarizing figure. Several comments launched long threads of responses.
“Obviously this is a political function, there’s no question about that,” Byron said. “Trump brings out many emotions from people. His supporters are very passionate, and the folks that dislike him are very passionate. There are going to be a lot of emotions running wild on the 28th.”