COURT HOUSE – Despite a steady drizzle and more rain on the way, dozens of cars and trucks lined Steel Road, in Court House, Oct. 25, drivers eager to show their support for President Donald Trump.
The vehicles were festooned with American flags and banners supporting the Republican incumbent, ready to start a route that would wind through Middle Township’s communities, in what has become a regular weekend event, in Cape May County.
The Trump vehicle parades have taken place throughout the county in the runup to the election, with more planned. They’ve been primarily organized through Facebook and other social media outlets.
Before the start, participants gathered in an empty lot for the Pledge of Allegiance, the “Star-Spangled Banner,” and to hear from Brian McDowell, one of the organizers of this and other parades. On Route 9, at the start of the planned route, a stand offered Trump flags, T-shirts, hats, and other merchandise for sale.
McDowell sees the parades as a way of building enthusiasm for the president.
“I think it’s energized the people in favor of Donald Trump,” he said, in an interview days earlier.
With a deafening chorus of horns and cheers, the parade took off, a mixture of oversized trucks, sedans, and classic cars, most decorated for the parade.
Signs of Opposition
A few passersby watched the start of the parade or took video on their phones. Across the street, three people stood on the corner, with signs stating “Black Lives Matter” and other messages, along with a rainbow flag.
Crystal Hutchinson, who was a familiar face at many of the demonstrations against racism throughout the county over the summer, accused the president of being racist and homophobic. Mag Parson, also a participant in the Black Lives Matter marches, added his opinion that Trump is also transphobic.
“We wanted to show that they do not represent all of Cape May County,” said Shannon McDevitt, the third participant. Other dissenters planned to make their presence known along the route.
At the start, the three counter-demonstrators said a few people voiced support for their position, although some took issue with the inclusion of an obscenity on one of the signs, while they also alleged that some Trump supporters behaved aggressively toward them.
The parade stopped traffic on Route 9, in the downtown area, as the long line of vehicles made a left turn to head south.
A decommissioned fire truck led the way, along with an official-looking vehicle topped with yellow lights, with “New York State Certified Escort Vehicle” on the side. There was no visible presence from active duty municipal police officers.
The fire truck had markings of the New York Fire Department on the front and a colorful painting of a bald eagle in front of a waving American flag on the side, with signs supporting Trump 2020.
After the vehicle parade through Cape May earlier in October, during which some expressed concern that police seemed to participate, Chief Anthony Marino posted to the department’s Facebook page that the officers performed traffic control to ensure safety.
“We were not involved in sanctioning the event or participating in the event,” he wrote Oct. 18, in a post that drew extensive interest. He described the event as originating from out of town and “organized by unknown persons.”
Candidate Among Parade Participants
Curtis Corson participated in a recent Trump parade, in Upper Township, where he’s running for reelection to Upper Township Committee, challenged by Democrat John Amenhauser. The route was posted to social media before the parade, he said.
“The intent was to have a good time and rally the supporters and motivate people,” Corson said. He acknowledged that the parades also motivate those opposed to the president, as well. “There’s always feedback, positive and negative. I think the door swings both ways.”
There were supporters and protestors on the side of the road along the route, he said. He did not see any obscene gestures from either side, but he believes there were plenty to go around, and he did hear people boo and hiss at the passing cars.
The parades offer a safe way to campaign during the pandemic, he said.
“The cars lend themselves to social distance,” Corson said. The people in his vehicle are people that he sees every day. He had an American flag and a Trump flag mounted to the back of his truck, along with a sign.
“It’s a show of Republican pride,” he said. “With anything that happens, there’s always controversy.”
At the start of that parade, someone arrived on a motorcycle with a sidecar showing a sign supporting Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Corson said there did not seem to be any interaction between the Trump supporters and the motorcyclist.
“I liked his motorcycle,” Corson said.
Dozens of vehicles participated in a rainy day parade of vehicles through Middle Township in support of @realDonaldTrump this afternoon, seen here getting started from Cape May Court House. #TrumpParade @HeraldNews pic.twitter.com/SsmoHBiFsg— Bill Barlow (@Jerseynews_Bill) October 25, 2020
There was also a boat parade in support of the president along the Tuckahoe River, he said, with other boat parades also taking place in the area.
Events Took Root This Fall
McDowell did not organize the Upper Township parade, but said he helped organize the others in Cape May County, including the event in Middle Township Oct. 25. He said he also organized vehicle parades, in Cape May, and along the shore towns, in Stone Harbor, Avalon, and Sea Isle City.
It started on Irish weekend, in Wildwood, he said, when about 75 cars paraded through town. He described it as a great success.
“We decided that day that we wanted to do them every weekend,” he said.
The parades have also seen multiple signs supporting U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2nd) for reelection, he said. The freshman congressman is locked in a close race with Democratic candidate Amy Kennedy after Van Drew changed parties late last year and aligned his political fortunes to the president.
McDowell plans to keep holding parades until the election, with another planned in Upper Township and Ocean City Nov. 1. The parades will likely continue after Election Day Nov. 3, he said, with the expectation that it will take far longer than usual for a final count this year. It could be days or weeks before the winner is determined, he said.
McDowell, of North Wildwood, met Trump while he was a contestant on The Apprentice, in 2005. In 2016, he was the campaign coordinator for Trump, in New Jersey, he said. He expressed some frustration with the scarce resources coming into New Jersey from the national campaign, but he said he understood why.
The state is expected to go overwhelmingly for Biden, while other states remain too close to call. Neighboring Pennsylvania remains a tight race and key to both sides’ hopes of gaining a majority in the Electoral College.
“This is a way for us to show our support of the president, to show strength in numbers,” McDowell said.
In 2017, McDowell ran unsuccessfully for state Assembly. After his nomination, he was pushed to withdraw from the race by the Republican leadership after a series of disclosures, including the fact that he was on the domestic violence registry and faced charges in North Wildwood and Florida. He said, at the time, the North Wildwood charges were dropped.
The bombshell revelation was a video sent to local Republicans, in which he is seen propositioning a woman, using an obscenity. Marcus Karavan, the Republican county leader at the time, said the party could not, in good conscience, support his candidacy and worked to have him removed from the Republican line.
“I got hosed by my own party,” was how McDowell put it, in a recent interview.
McDowell does not appear to hold an official position with the Trump campaign, in 2020. Sen. Michael Testa (R-1st), representing Cape May County, was tapped as the co-chairman of the president’s reelection bid, in New Jersey, along with Joseph Pennachio, of Rockaway Township, the Senate minority whip. Testa did not respond to requests for comment.
Not Organized by the GOP
The local Republican party organization played no part in organizing or sanctioning the parades, according to Cape May County party chairman Michael Donohue, although some candidates participated.
“It’s been interesting to me because we’ve done nothing to organize them at all. They’ve been completely organic,” he said. “Frankly, I don’t know who’s organized any of them.”
He said he heard that McDowell organized one.
Donohue said the parades show the enthusiasm for Trump. Beyond the parades, he sees strong support for the president, in Cape May County.
“The amount of outreach I’ve seen for signs or to volunteer is like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” he said.
In an exceptionally vitriolic election year at the top of the ticket, one in which Biden called Trump the worst president the nation has ever had, and the president accused his challenger of everything from corruption to relying on performance-enhancing drugs, some of that intensity has been on display locally.
A car with Biden flags followed the parade along the route Oct. 25.
McDowell said he’s heard people yell obscenities and display obscene gestures at the vehicle parades. He said the Democrats should find their own way to support their candidate.
Don’t Expect Democratic Parades Soon
“I haven’t seen one Biden parade. You’d think that maybe they should do a Biden parade,” McDowell said. He suggested few people would participate.
Brendan Sciarra, Cape May County’s Democratic leader and a candidate for county freeholder, did not have much to say about the possibility. He said anyone is entitled to hold a parade or otherwise present opinions, but said he is more focused on connecting with voters, campaigning in front of supermarkets and other gathering places.
“Honestly, I just want to meet the people. I’m meeting tons of voters. I’m meeting Republicans, Democrats, and independents,” he said. Running as a Democrat with fellow candidate Elizabeth Casey to unseat Republican incumbent Freeholders Will Morey and Jeffrey Pierson, he described the campaign as non-partisan.
“I’m happy to have any voter vote for me. I think people are getting past this partisan stuff and want to find the right candidate for the job,” he said.
Before the parade began Oct. 25, McDowell spoke to the drivers, including offering a discount on his book, “Fact or Fake News, True Stories from the Trump Whisperer.” He also related his view on losing the party’s support while running for Assembly, arguing that it was for no reason.
“That’s why we’ve got to stick together, even after Trump wins the election,” McDowell said.
To contact Bill Barlow, email email@example.com.