WILDWOOD, N.J. — President Donald Trump, during a raucous campaign rally in blue state New Jersey, praised Rep. Jeff Van Drew, the newest Republican in Congress, and denounced Democrats' impeachment efforts.
Trump talked up the ex-Democratic lawmaker on Tuesday night for voting against both articles of impeachment in the House. A day before the vote, Van Drew announced he was joining the GOP and that Trump had his "undying support." In response, Trump had vowed to endorse Van Drew, who before switching parties was reportedly facing a tough Democratic primary battle.
During his visit to the beach resort town of Wildwood in Van Drew's Republican-leaning district, Trump depicted Van Drew as a symbol for Democratic dissatisfaction with party leadership.
"What he did was incredible," Trump said, drawing massive applause from the Wildwoods Convention Center.
Trump, once a casino magnate about 45 minutes north of here in Atlantic City, spoke for just over an hour in the jam-packed convention hall. Thousands of people waited outside in the frigid weather for much longer — some for days, local outlets reported — to be let inside the arena, which held roughly 7,500 people.
"Americans of all political beliefs are sick and tired" of the Democrats, Trump said, citing as evidence some recent national polls showing his approval slightly higher since the impeachment proceedings began.
"Voters are making a mass exodus from that party and we are welcoming them to that party," the president claimed.
Before the rally, Trump campaign spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told CNBC that Van Drew is "a model for what we think is going on all around the country."
New Jersey is among the few solid-blue states in which Trump has held a 2020 campaign rally.
Hillary Clinton, Trump's Democratic opponent in the 2016 presidential contest, beat Trump in New Jersey by about 14 percentage points. And after the so-called blue-wave midterm elections in 2018, the state was represented entirely by Democrats save for one district.
That wave washed over the state's 2nd District with the election of Van Drew. He ran as a moderate Democrat and unseated the Republican incumbent in his party's first victory there in years.
While Trump railed against the Democrats who want him removed from office, his impeachment trial raged on in the Senate.
House Democrats launched the impeachment inquiry following a whistleblower's complaint about Trump's July 25 call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Trump in that call asked Zelenskiy to "look into" former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, as well as a debunked conspiracy theory about Ukraine, not Russia, interfering in the 2016 election.
Democrats accuse Trump of withholding congressionally appropriated military aid in order to pressure the foreign leader to smear Trump's possible 2020 rival by announcing probes into the Bidens, and then stonewalling Congress' investigation into the matter. Trump has denied all wrongdoing.
Trump's defense team completed their opening statements Tuesday afternoon, wrapping up a series of arguments to convince the Republican-led Senate to acquit the president of the two impeachment charges against him.
They took less overall time than the Democratic House impeachment managers, led by Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., to present their arguments. Senators say they expect a vote in the chamber Friday on whether to bring additional witnesses and documents in the trial.
Correction: An earlier version misstated the date of the Trump-Zelenskiy phone call. It was July 25.