Donald Trump will be testing his uncanny ability to pull in massive crowds of supporters pretty much anywhere in the country by hosting a rally in the Vermont city of Burlington — which is ground zero for Bernie Sanders territory.
The city is the Democratic presidential candidate's hometown, and where he first won elected office as the city's mayor in 1981. Burlington has cultivated a reputation for being a hippie-loving enclave so liberal that it's sometimes referred to as the People's Republic of Burlington, which makes it an odd spot for Trump to stump.
But despite Burlington's position deep inside enemy territory — or perhaps because of it — Trump has high hopes for tonight. His campaign has distributed 20,000 tickets for the event to be held at the Flynn Theater, a venue that only holds 1,400. The Burlington Police Department said in a statement that it had received confirmation from Trump's campaign that roughly 6,500 people are actually coming.
Campaigns often issue far more tickets for events than venues can accommodate in order to ensure a packed house. But even if only a fraction of the people who signed up for Trump's show actually come, many more people are expected to show up than will be let in. As the director of the Flynn Theater put it to the Burlington Free Press with a degree of understatement, it "looks like they have oversubscribed."
Unlike Trump's typical gatherings elsewhere in the country, many of the people who hope to attend this event want to protest his campaign rather than support it. Jen Giammanco, a 25-year-old Burlington resident, is planning on protesting tonight along with many of her friends. Asked whether she believed that a significant number of the 20,000 ticket holders are genuine Trump supporters, Giammanco laughed.
"Absolutely not," she said. "No way."
The anti-Trump sentiment in the Burlington community is palpable ahead of his arrival, according to Giammanco. People are eager to show that "we're not okay with his policy and the way he presents himself as a political candidate, or with any of his goals."
A 2014 Gallup poll found that Vermont had the highest percentage of liberal voters in the country, and its voters have repeatedly elected Sanders — a self-described "democratic socialist" who identifies as independent but caucuses with Democrats — to Congress since 1990. In 2012, he was overwhelmingly re-elected to the Senate with more than 70 percent of the vote.
Burlington police have warned that "there will likely be protests, demonstrations and rallies from different political perspectives in the city's public spaces" tonight, noting that they have increasing security and imposed strict attendance limits both inside and outside the venue tonight.
Many of the main streets leading into downtown Burlington were closed on Thursday. Parents whose children attend local public schools were advised to pick them up by 4:30 pm in order to avoid the expected crowds, according to Natalie Bond, a resident of Burlington who works at a nearby school.
The police department's precaution might seem a bit much for a standard campaign event, but Trump's packed rallies have generate a degree of turbulence that demands increased security. Crowds at Trump rallies everywhere from Las Vegas to Alabama routinely swell to the tens of thousands.
Hecklers and protesters have become increasingly common at Trump rallies, although the vast majority of attendees have been supporters. Videos of Trump proponents kicking, punching, and dragging protesters out of rallies have surfaced in recent months.
Giammanco expects the anti-Trump demonstrations to be peaceful.
"We're not for his violent energy. We're not going to be aggressive in rebuttal to his aggressiveness," she remarked. Nevertheless, she admitted that she and her friends are "a little nervous about how it's all going to play out."
Some of the protesters who are able to actually get a seat in the theater are planning on walking out and leaving their seats empty, Giammanco said. Many others who have bought tickets will be outside giving voice to Burlington's opposition to the Donald.
There's one prominent Vermonter who isn't going to be joining the Trump protest — Sanders himself.
"I welcome Mr. Trump to Vermont," the senator said in a statement. "I hope his presence here will help him better understand Vermont values — social and economic justice, tolerance, respect for all people and the environment."
Doors open at 5 pm tonight, and the event is scheduled to begin two hours later.
The first people arrived at 4:30 am today to get in line outside the Flynn, reported local television channel WCAX. By noon, the line stretched around the block. The crowd is said to be mixed, with some people coming from New York to support Trump.
Caity Bryant, 26-year-old resident of Burlington, said that "the entire event is just so out of the norm" based on the crowds it is already drawing. She lives two blocks from the Flynn and estimates there are at least a couple hundred people already in line as of mid-afternoon. Bryant is planning on protesting the event, but said that she expects to see Trump supporters coming in from the more rural areas of Vermont outside of Burlington.
Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928