The candidate was sweating, and it wasn’t from the pressure of the campaign.
“We’re in a ballroom and I feel like I’m in a sauna,” Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said Monday in Roanoke. “The people who own this hotel should be ashamed of themselves.”
It was indeed moist inside the room at the Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center where some 1,600 supporters and media were packed in for hours waiting for and then listening to Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence. Another 600 found space in an overflow room.
It was hotter outside, but not hot enough to stifle the enthusiasm of thousands who waited in a line that curled around the hotel property for a half mile — far more people, all of whom seemed to have tickets, than the venue could hold.
Roanoke Fire-EMS treated 19 people for heat-related illness, department spokeswoman Tiffany Bradbury said. Five people had to be taken to the hospital. Emergency workers and police worked the line handing out bottled water.
With so many ticket holders waiting, Bradbury said, the fire marshal allowed more people into the venue than its listed capacity.
“We were able to increase capacity because we were able to be more flexible,” she said. “We let in the maximum amount of folks in there we believed to be safe.”
All those people made it a challenge to keep the people — and the candidate — cool. Hotel Roanoke Manager Michael Quonce said the air conditioning was on and running well.
“Temperatures in the mid- to upper 90s, doors opened for two hours to let hundreds of attendees enter and the ballroom filled to capacity did present a challenge,” he said. “However, hotel staff did everything possible to keep guests comfortable and accommodated, both inside and out.”
The zeal of most spectators kept them there for Trump.
Carson King, 78, seemed unfazed by the heat as he waited in line.
“It’s always been Trump,” he said, though he acknowledged his candidate can be a little unpredictable. “He makes you kind of worry sometimes what he’s going to do next.”
King, an independent, runs a produce market on Bent Mountain. “We need somebody who knows something about business,” he said.
Roxanne Mills, 55, drove 45 minutes from Big Island in Amherst County to see her candidate.
“I don’t like his cockiness,” she said, “but if he can do what he says he’s going to do and change the world, I’m all for it.”
“We need somebody who is going to provide the leadership and take a stand,” said Rick Asserson, 72, of Roanoke. “If he does what he says he’s going to do, it’s going to be fantastic.”
A Vietnam veteran, Asserson said he likes Trump’s talk of loosening the rules of engagement for the military.
“He knows a hell of a lot more about the economy than Hillary [Clinton] does,” he said.
Asserson acknowledged Trump still has some “unknowns,” such as foreign policy, but trusts that he’ll surround himself with people who will advise him well.
A few dozen protesters collected at the corner of Wells Avenue and Williamson Road. The anti-Trump crowd stood on one side of the road exchanging shouted barbs with Trump supporters in line and passing by on the other side.
Trump is for law and order, his supporters shouted.
“Nixon wanted law and order, too, you see how that turned out,” responded one protester.
“Get a life,” a Trump fan barked back.
At times, the two sides traded chants.
“Lock her up! Lock her up!” and, simply, “Trump! Trump! Trump!” Trump supporters shouted.
“No Trump! No KKK! No racist USA!” the anti-Trump protesters fired back.
A few times, Trump fans crossed the street to debate people on issues. One man crossed the street and hugged a loud Trump protester.
Anti-Trump protester Gabrielle Derusha deflected personal attacks and reminded the crowd of about 100 throughout the day to remain civil. Derusha moved to the Roanoke area to attend Hollins University and stayed.
“I was taught you can’t bring about change while sitting on sidelines,” she said.
“I am pretty much sick and tired of people saying they want to take the country back from people like me,” said Wanda Bess, an Air Force veteran. “The misogyny, the sexism, the racism, the stroking hatred and fear about everyone who doesn’t look like him.”
Earlier in the day, Roanoke Valley Democrats gathered to counterprogram the Trump event.
“Their divisive and dangerous ideas showed the country exactly what kind of American they want to create — a divided one,” Roanoke County Democratic Committee Chairwoman Susan Cloeter said. Former county Democratic chairman Carter Turner called Trump’s vision of America “dark and twisted” and his policy ideas “bigoted.”
As she spoke, a man passing in a pickup truck shouted “Hillary sucks!”
Later, a man in a Trump T-shirt holding a “Defeat Crooked Hillary” sign infiltrated the crowd of supporters behind the speakers. Freeda Cathcart, a recent candidate for Roanoke City Council, quickly moved in front of the man, holding up her “Love Trumps Hate” sign to block his sign.
Roanoke Vice Mayor Anita Price described what she considered to be Trump’s “bullying,” name-calling and racist remarks, saying he’d be suspended if he acted that way in a public school.
“If such behavior would not be tolerated in the schoolhouse, why should we tolerate such deplorable behavior in the White House?”
A minimal police presence of about a dozen uniformed Roanoke and Roanoke County officers watched over the people.
Beyond the shouting, the demonstrations remained peaceful — a relief to city officials who are aware of the violence that has erupted at past Trump events.
Roanoke Police Chief Tim Jones said no one had been arrested.
“We wanted people to act appropriately, and we didn’t have any problems,” Jones said.
Inside the conference center, Pence and Trump gave supporters plenty of red-meat bashing of Clinton and her running mate, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia.
Trump played to the Virginia crowd, saying he’d done a lot of business in “Loudoun County and down in Charlottesville and some other stuff.” He said he loved Roanoke, that he’d been here many times.
What’s become his typical digressive style kept the crowd cheering as he veered off to take stabs at the opposition, often for laughs.
He called Clinton “low energy” and said she takes four- or five-hour naps.
“No naps for Trump!” he proclaimed.
“No naps!” some in the crowd echoed in a kind of “amen.”
“We don’t need naps!”
Trump took a few questions from the crowd at the end, and then worked the rope line signing autographs for several minutes.
“I think everything he said excited me,” said Larry Blevins after it was over. He described himself as “basically an independent.”
His wife, Linda, has always voted Democrat, until now.
This year, she said, “We’re on the Trump train.”