President Donald Trump and his sea of supporters flooded into southern New Jersey on Tuesday night to rally the base and boost a Democrat-turned-Republican congressman’s chances in this fall’s election.

The rally at the cavernous Wildwoods Convention Center in the shore resort town of Wildwood transformed the sleepy winter boardwalk into an exuberant MAGA carnival—vendors sold profane pro-Trump t-shirts, presidential impersonators stood for countless selfies, and liberal protesters were shouted down. 

Merchandise supporting President Trump at the rally in Wildwood, NJ

Merchandise supporting President Trump at the rally in Wildwood, NJ

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Merchandise supporting President Trump at the rally in Wildwood, NJ
Matt Katz / WNYC

The presidential rally was part of the deal when Congressman Jeff Van Drew switched parties late last year—he wanted Trump to give him a Trumpian seal of approval in order to stave off challengers in the Republican primary. Van Drew, who voted with Democrats more than 90 percent of the time in Congress and as recently as a few weeks ago declared his opposition to the president, had reportedly seen poll numbers indicating his chances to win reelection as a Democrat were sinking after he came out against impeaching the president. 

“He’s a great guy, he’s a brave guy, he shares our values,” Trump said. 

“How about having the president right here in South Jersey?” Van Drew asked the crowd of about 7,000. “What a great day!”

Listen to Matt Katz's report from Wildwood on WNYC:

Trump voters said they were content with Van Drew’s switch, and Republicans in the district said they’d support him, just as Trump had advised. 

Trump took credit for New Jersey’s lowest-ever unemployment rate and he trashed the state’s Democratic leadership for supposedly releasing dangerous immigrants, but he didn’t mention Gov. Phil Murphy nor Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, who implemented the Immigrant Trust Directive that limits local law enforcement cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

“You have criminals on the streets that should be taken the hell out of our country and brought back to where they came from,” Trump said to uproarious applause.

Hundreds line up for President Trump's rally for Rep. Van Drew on a Wildwood street

Hundreds line up for President Trump's rally for Rep. Van Drew on a Wildwood street

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Hundreds line up for President Trump's rally for Rep. Van Drew on a Wildwood street
Paul Zimmerman/Shutterstock

Trump received a more muted response when he mentioned former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who flew to the rally with the president on Air Force One, though he was not invited on-stage. Moments later, Trump teased that he might host a summer rally at the Meadowlands and drew a far louder response. 

There was a sense of joy that filled the arena on Tuesday night. “I’m going to see the president of the United States today—it don’t get no better than that!” exclaimed Rob Dous, whose Uncle Sam costume was topped by a 1 ½-foot high hat.  “I’m the happiest American you’ll ever find.”

Dous said it was great to be surrounded by fellow Trump fans—elsewhere, he explained, “You tell people you voted for Trump, jeez, they wanna throw something at you.”

Trump supporter Rob Dous, in a stars-and-stripes shirt and top hat

Trump supporter Rob Dous

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Trump supporter Rob Dous
Matt Katz / WNYC

The crowd’s happiness was only punctured when prompted. The word “Pelosi” may have gotten the loudest boos, and Trump directed three rounds of jeers at the media pen. (A handful of journalists were also heckled for failing to stand up during the national anthem.)

Matt Rooney, a New Jersey conservative who founded the political blog Save Jersey, said it was nice to see South Jersey, for once, “at the center of the political universe.”

“Today, no one can look down their noses at us,” he said. 

Crowds in Wildwood gather for President Trump's rally

Crowds in Wildwood gather for President Trump's rally

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Crowds in Wildwood gather for President Trump's rally
Paul Zimmerman/Shutterstock

Rooney believes that South Jersey is moving towards the Republicans. “Jeff Van Drew's not a dumb guy, you can question his intentions all you want, but at the end of the day he decided to align himself with President Trump's party for a reason—he sees which way the wind is blowing,” he said.

Other than vendors, security and reporters, the crowd appeared to be almost entirely white. Rosa Rodriguez, a Cuban American wearing a “Hispanics For Trump” t-shirt, lives in nearby Gloucester County. Asked about why many people think Trump is a racist, she said: “When you can’t come up with something that you don’t agree with, just say ‘you’re racist.’”

Trevor Horn, 12, checks out an RV full of President Donald Trump paraphernalia before the start of a rally in Wildwood, N.J

Trevor Horn, 12, checks out an RV full of President Donald Trump paraphernalia before the start of a rally in Wildwood, N.J

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Trevor Horn, 12, checks out an RV full of President Donald Trump paraphernalia before the start of a rally in Wildwood, N.J
Seth Wenig/AP/Shutterstock

Outside the convention center, about 400 protesters gathered and jawed with Trump supporters. Dozens of vendors sold buttons, scarves and t-shirts with unusual political messaging (“Donald Fuckin’ Trump”). A giant video screen simulcast the speech for those who couldn’t get inside (NJ.com estimated there were “several thousand watching a video screen at Fox Park and another few thousand at the video screen closer to the entrance”).

Trump, who owns several golf courses in the state and had planned to be buried at one, name-checked other Garden State towns for the crowd and riffed on New Jerseyan Frank Sinatra—“he was a piece of work.”

People attend a US President Donald J. Trump rally at the Wildwoods Convention Center in Wildwood, New Jersey

People attend a US President Donald J. Trump rally at the Wildwoods Convention Center in Wildwood, New Jersey

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People attend a US President Donald J. Trump rally at the Wildwoods Convention Center in Wildwood, New Jersey
TRACIE VAN AUKEN/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Trump hit a lot of familiar notes in his hour-long speech, uttering President Obama's middle name, Hussein, when mentioning him, eliciting boos, and speaking about himself in the third person as “your favorite president.” 

He also said the Green New Deal meant that Americans will have to “get rid of your cows.” This has been recurring Trump talking point regarding the Green New Deal, but it has no basis in fact. The non-binding resolution does not seek to ban cows—who release methane, a major contributor to the climate crisis mostly attributable to human activitybut would work “collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible.

“You don’t have too many cows in Wildwood, but they’re gone,” he said.

WHYY’s Ximena Conde contributed to this report. 

Matt Katz is a reporter at WNYC News covering immigration, hate, and security. You can follow him on Twitter at @mattkatz00.