Jordan Loyda was halfway to Billings from the Flathead Valley where he makes his home when he remembered just how long the drive was.

Seven hours after he left, Loyda, a canvasser and supporter of anti-drug and anti-marijuana initiative Safe Montana, was shoulder to shoulder at Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign rally with a wide array of Montanans, ranging from Billings mayor Tom Hanel, to an active shooter defense consultant and even some Bernie Sanders supporters.

Trump spoke for about an hour at the Thursday afternoon rally.

Mayor Tom Hanel, while standing in the Rimrock Auto Arena tunnel, spoke about his reasons for attending the rally.

“For many years we’ve been promised changes,” Hanel said. “I’m tired of these changes, and I’m ready for some new ones.”

Hanel said Trump’s business background was a big reason he believed in the candidate’s ability to succeed as president.

When it comes to some of Trump’s more controversial statements, like building a wall along the United States-Mexico border and banning Muslim immigration, Hanel said, “They may be referred to as ‘controversial,’ but many of those statements are what American citizens need to hear.”

Christine Wilnau, 34, showed up with her young children, 5-year-old Riley and 1-year-old Bryce. Wilnau said she’s not really a Trump supporter (or a Bernie Sanders supporter or a Hillary Clinton supporter, for that matter), but the historical nature of a Billings visit from a presidential candidate is what brought her out.

“We’ve never had three candidate choices this poor,” Wilnau said, adding that she’s considering supporting Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. “The dilemma there is, do you make your vote count or do you vote for the person you believe can do the job?”

Wilnau was among a small minority of attendees who weren’t Trump supporters. That wasn’t the case with Loyda.

“I’m a simple guy,” Loyda said after finishing a Jimmy John’s sandwich. “I’m anti-abortion,” Loyda said. “He wants to overturn Roe v. Wade.”

Loyda said he’s staying at the home of Safe Montana’s leader Steve Zabawa and is a computer science and engineering student at Flathead Valley Community College.

Loyda and other petitioners and vendors stood along the walkway from the Metra’s upper parking lot, forcing eventgoers to navigate a gauntlet of political and economic opportunists.

Down near the Metra ticket boxes, a graveyard of refreshments, soda bottles and Big Gulp cups could be seen beside the door where security had forced event-goers to ditch their drinks. From there, the sounds of a man repeatedly singing “save our nation,” could be heard from the lower parking lot.

Up the walkway from Safe Montana’s table, two Bernie Sanders supporters stood quiet, holding signs for their candidate.

“Please Choose Love Not Hate," read 33-year-old Rindey Daughters' sign. 

“I think my sign is making people think,” Daughters said. “I’m excited people are participating in the political process.”

Daughters described herself as an environmental activist who is deeply concerned with the world’s climate. Additionally, Daughters said she’s concerned about a Trump presidency because she believes he is a racist.

“His rhetoric reminds me of Hitler’s,” Daughters said. “I never understood how the Holocaust happened. Now I feel I understand.”

Ralph and Cherie Moss drove five hours from their home in Joplin to see Trump speak. The married couple found a spot in line at about 10:30 a.m. just to make sure they got into the arena.

“(We supported Trump) from the beginning because he wasn’t a politician,” Ralph Moss said. “Plus we’ve been a fan of his for years with 'Celebrity Apprentice' and 'The Apprentice.'”

Cherie Moss said their son served in Iraq and is a combat veteran. She thinks Trump is more supportive of the troops than the current administration and wanted a candidate “who would love America.”

The couple came prepared. Cherie wore a Trump sweatshirt, and Ralph was in a T-shirt with a picture of President Barack Obama under the words “TYRANT” in bold red letters. But supporters without Trump swag had plenty of opportunity to purchase hats, shirts, pins and bumper stickers from the many vendor tables and carts outside the arena.

Inside the arena, retired Air Force fighter pilot and current active shooter defense consultant Patrick Hoy said he was a longtime Republican and a conservative who was hoping to be convinced. One of his largest concerns is the nuclear deal with Iran.

“I’m here to listen to what he says, as opposed to what the media reports,” Hoy said. “I’m not here for all the yelling and screaming.”

Afterward, Hoy said he felt the speech was “mostly rhetoric, but I agree on the Supreme Court stuff.”

“I just wish he would stop bashing Republicans and bash Democrats more,” Hoy said. Hoy said he thinks Trump will be our next president.

“I wish he would be more civil,” Hoy said. “The president sets the tone for how the country acts.”

Dave Kosmann, a 40-year-old Billings fitter-fabricator said, “I liked it; I loved it,” after the speech had ended. Kosmann said he likes Trump’s plans for taking care of illegal immigration and fixing the economy. Kosmann said one of his best friends is a veteran, and he liked Trump’s pledge of support for American veterans. “I’m pretty disgusted with how they’ve been treated,” Kosmann said.

Sarah Pichler, a 21-year-old Montana State University Billings student originally from Columbus, was very happy with Trump’s speech.

“It was really nice to finally hear him speak without the media twisting his words,” Pichler said. “I really liked how he got the crowd pumped up. He made some really good points.”

Agreed Tanner Thelen, a 19-year-old Trump supporter from Great Falls, agreed.

“I thought it was very eye-opening to hear what our country is becoming.”

Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders and former President Bill Clinton, stumping for his wife, Hillary Clinton, have both made appearances in Billings. The Montana primary election is June 7.

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Night Reporter

General assignment reporter for The Billings Gazette.