Decision 2020

What Does a Trump Rally Near Atlantic City Look Like? We’re About to Find Out.

President Trump is holding a rally at the Jersey Shore on Jan. 28, about 40 miles south of the casino town he reigned over as a gambling magnate for more than two decades

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What to Know

  • The president is stumping for U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who won a first term to Congress in 2018 as a Democrat but flipped to Republican after the impeachment vote
  • Van Drew represents New Jersey's 2nd congressional district, one of the more conservative in the Garden State. Trump won there by 5 points in 2016
  • The rally will be held in Wildwood, about 40 miles south of Atlantic City

President Donald Trump's long, complicated history with New Jersey's casino city by the sea, Atlantic City, will come to the forefront this month when he holds a campaign rally in Wildwood for Democrat-turned-Republican Congressman Jeff Van Drew.

How does Atlantic City feel about its former prince, Trump, whose casinos went bankrupt four times before he cut his losses? All four have since disappeared completely or dropped his name from their marquee.

Trump's troubled reign as casino overlord from the 1980s through the 2000s was a mixed bag for both residents of Atlantic City and employees of Trump Plaza, Trump Castle, Trump Taj Mahal and Trump Regency, according to a longtime reporter covering gambling and Trump in New Jersey.

"You'll see a lot of retired casino workers who love the guy and will be at the rally," said John Brennan, a senior analyst for USBets.com who spent 35 years at The Record newspaper in Bergen County, New Jersey. "And on the picket lines are the contractors who got stiffed by him."

Brennan said Trump's legacy of big profits and high-profile bankruptcies during his time in Atlantic City made him a hero to many of "the thousands who employed at his casinos" while also a villian to business owners who did work for him and weren't compensated fully.

"A lot of workers are still impressed by him. They had careers at his casinos," Brennan said. "Those investors that lost lots of money (during the bankruptcies) don't live in Atlantic City. They probably live in Manhattan. A few local contractors might be upset with him still."

The longtime journalist recalled a story he often heard from business owners who did work for Trump, and weren't paid the full amount agreed upon before hand.

"He would say, if you do a $25,000 project for him, the fact that you can tell people you did a project for Trump is worth it,'" Brennan said. "The thing is he didn't tell them he wasn't going to give them $25,000."

Trump's return to South Jersey to campaign for Van Drew, who is now running for a second term in Congress as Republican, will take place in Wildwoods Convention Center on Jan. 28.

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Van Drew represents New Jersey's 2nd congressional district, a conservative district in a heavily-Democratic state. Trump won the district by 5 points over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Van Drew was expected to face challengers in the Democratic primary this year. Then he became the only Democrat in the House of Representatives to vote against both articles of impeachment last month.

Within days, he was in the Oval Office sitting next to Trump and vowing allegiance to the president and the Republican party.

Atlantic County Democratic Chairman Mike Suleiman called Van Drew "a piece of garbage" and added, "We’re going to have a good candidate. We’re going to kick this guy’s butt."

At least three Democrats have announced they plan on running against Van Drew: Montclair State University political professor Brigid Harrison, Brigantine native and wife of former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, Amy Petitgout Kennedy and former FBI agent, Robert Turkavage.

Wildwood Police Chief Robert Regalbuto called Trump's appearance in the Jersey Shore town "a monumental event."

The convention center can hold about 7,400 people. Wildwood is about 40 miles south of Atlantic City.

"I'm actually happy that it’s happening in January," Regalbuto said. "Trying to bring the president to the city of Wildwood in July or August would be a little more difficult."

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