Trump visit: It’s back on

Most of the original plans remain in place for President Donald Trump’s rescheduled visit, with an invitation-only event planned for next Thursday at The Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center.

It’s back on. President Donald Trump plans to make an address about Medicare during a private event at 1:30 p.m. next Thursday at The Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center. Trump originally intended to speak at The Sharon on Aug. 6, setting off a frenzy of excitement in The Villages as the community prepared to host a sitting president for the second time — the first being George W. Bush in 2004.  But Trump postponed the speech in the wake of national tragedies that took place a few days ahead of his planned visit. The White House announced the rescheduled visit on Thursday afternoon, and most of the original plans remain in place, including an invitation-only audience.

Individuals with invitations from the previously scheduled visit can expect to see confirmation from the White House for this visit soon, said John Temple, Sumter County Republican Executive Committee chairman.

“It’s my understanding if you were on the list previously, you’ll be on the list this time,” Temple said. “The invitations are from the White House, not from the local REC or any of the clubs.”

Temple was notified about the rescheduled visit in the early afternoon Thursday, he said, after submitting a few possible dates for the president to choose from that coordinated with events happening at The Sharon.

“We can’t wait to hear the (Medicare) announcement,” Temple said. “Just as before, we’re so honored to have our president in our hometown.”

Most officials and club leaders who found out about the rescheduled visit Thursday afternoon were surprised by the news, including Sumter County Commissioner Steve Printz.

“Wow,” Printz said. “I had not heard. That’s fantastic. The fact that he rescheduled screams loud, positive signs for Sumter County and his support.”

Villagers for Trump President David Gee said all he knew about high-profile visits coming up was from Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who spoke to Republicans in The Villages at the end of August and mentioned returning for a visit in November with Donald Trump Jr.

The rescheduled visit coincidentally falls on the same day as his club’s Trump Day Dinner. Gee has not yet determined how Trump’s visit might affect those who were planning to attend the dinner or the guest speaker, Stephen Baldwin, a conservative political activist and actor.  

Jerry Prince, The Villages Republican Club president, said he was excited Trump was able to reschedule his visit so quickly after the postponement and “with all the stuff he’s been doing and all that’s going on.”

“I thought it would be a little while longer,” Prince said. “This is fantastic news. I thought that the president would come after Don Jr., personally. I thought we’d have his son one month and him the next, and then it’d be Christmas.”

The announcement quickly reignited the excitement among Trump supporters.

“I think it’s a home run for us,” Gee said.

The upcoming presidential appearance is not a campaign rally, and the White House already has determined a guest list. Those with questions can visit whitehouse.gov/contact. The Villages is unable to address ticket requests.

This isn’t the first time The Villages has come up on Trump’s radar. The community caught his attention during his 2016 campaign. On Sept. 16, 2016, Trump tweeted a video from a Fox News broadcast about a Villagers for Trump golf cart rally. Trump’s tweet said:

“Great parade in The Villages — I love you all. We will #MAGA. Thank you for the incredible support — I will not forget!”

The next day, then-vice presidential candidate Mike Pence visited. The parade hadn’t escaped his notice either.

“Doggone it, I saw that on TV,” Pence said. “How about give it up for the golf cart parade?”

The Villages also lies on the edge of the I-4 corridor, the voter-heavy area along Interstate 4 that runs from Tampa through Orlando to Daytona Beach. It’s the most fought over — and least predictable — part of the state.

And Sumter County turns out the vote. In the last presidential election, Sumter ranked third in voter turnout among Florida counties. During last year’s gubernatorial election, Sumter’s turnout topped the list.

Trump already has made Florida a priority, launching his reelection campaign in June in Orlando.

With 29 electoral votes — tied for third-most overall — Florida is the nation’s biggest battleground state.

And it’s the swingiest swing state, with voters in the past six presidential elections opting for the Republican candidate three times and the Democratic candidate three times. Each time, whoever won Florida won the election.

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