Trump visit has Villages Republicans aching for invite

Dick Clapp, of the Village of Calumet, unrolls a flag before a Villagers for Trump golf cart rally in April. The president will stop in The Villages for a presidential visit next Tuesday.

Steve Printz knows one thing for sure about President Donald Trump’s upcoming visit to The Villages, and that’s what kind of reception he’ll receive.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a base as excited, as supportive and as active for a president,” said Printz, a Sumter County commissioner.

Throughout The Villages, supporters of the president were abuzz Tuesday after the announcement by the White House late Monday that Trump will make his first visit here next week. It also will be just the second time a sitting U.S. president has visited The Villages.

Printz said he believes it’s a significant milestone for the community to have the privilege to host the president.

“We’re a strong base for him in the county and The Villages,” Printz said. “There’s enthusiasm for what he’s doing and attempting to do.”

That enthusiasm had supporters scrambling Tuesday, trying in vain to find details on how to score a ticket to the invitation-only event. So far the White House has revealed only that the event will be Tuesday and will focus on Medicare.

The exact location, time, number of people being invited and process for trying to get an invitation remain a mystery. What is known is that it’s an official presidential visit — not a campaign rally — and only a limited number of people will be invited to attend.

David Gee, president of the Villagers for Trump club, said he was amazed by the number of people trying to contact him about the presidential visit. Even people he doesn’t even know who met him two years ago are asking him for tickets, he said.

“It shows the tremendous support and passion for what our president is trying to do right now,” Gee said.

Another person hopefuls are turning to is John Temple, chairman of the Sumter County Republican Executive Committee. He said it is “an extreme honor to have a sitting president come to our hometown.”

“I had the privilege of going to Orlando and being part of the (campaign kickoff) rally there, and I’m super-excited to hear about the changes and things going on with our Medicare system,” he said. “I can’t wait to hear the announcement that’s coming.”

Aubrey Jewett, a University of Central Florida political science professor, said he wasn’t surprised by the White House announcement.

“The Villages — and Sumter County more broadly — gave President Trump a very high percentage of votes, so he’s pretty well-assured of a mostly friendly audience and a good crowd,” Jewett said.

Since Trump announced his reelection campaign in June in Orlando, this visit can be seen as a continuation of the first leg of his campaign, Jewett said.

“Florida is expected to be a vitally important state in the 2020 presidential election,” he said. “By going to The Villages and talking about Medicare, I’m sure the president is hoping to mobilize voters in The Villages to at least match what they did in 2016, if not exceed it.”

The Villages is prime political real estate. The community touches the voter-heavy area along Interstate 4 that runs from Tampa through Orlando and to Daytona Beach, known as the I-4 corridor. It’s the most sought after, and least certain, part of the nation’s biggest swing state.

Most of The Villages lies within Sumter County, which consistently has one of the highest voter turnout rates in the country. In the 2016 presidential election, Trump won two out of every three votes in Sumter, making the county an obvious stronghold for the president.

One of the Villagers hoping for an invitation is Denise Neal, of the Village of Caroline.

“I keep getting phone calls asking me to get tickets,” said Neal, a board member for Villagers for Trump, “and I’m like, ‘Well, I’m waiting for my own.’

“It would be nice if they had it in a large venue and tried to include as many as possible. I would love to meet him, but I’d be happy just sitting in the crowd — that’s OK, too.”

The club worked “very hard” to secure a Trump presidency in 2016 and plans to do so again in 2020. She considers his upcoming visit a reward for all that work.

“There’s a lot of dedicated members who do fundraising and volunteer time to register voters,” she said. “The Villages has been — besides supporting President Trump — (supporting) every one of his candidates. If he put the stamp of approval, we worked hard for those candidates, too.”

Look no further than Gov. Ron DeSantis for proof of the power of Trump’s blessing. The former congressman was the underdog in the Republican primary and trailing far behind until Trump endorsed him. Trump also appeared with him at a rally in Tampa that drew hundreds of Villagers and helped propel DeSantis to victory. 

The last sitting president to come to The Villages was George W. Bush in 2004. During the 2016 election, future Vice President Mike Pence visited as a candidate.

Jewett said there is nothing quite like having a president stop in your town.

“Trump really can whip a crowd up and get them really excited,” he said. “(It) generates a lot more excitement. It should increase anticipation among his supporters.”

Staff writer Alexandria Mansfield can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5401, or alexandria.mansfield@thevillagesmedia.com.