Trump rally: Casper braces for big crowds

CASPER — After a 1,300-mile journey, the “MAGA-mobile” arrived in Casper towing a trailer with former President Donald Trump’s face on it. Casper welcomed Bill Bailey and his self-proclaimed “largest mobile Trump store in the nation” last Thursday. 

Since Bailey fought off the Casper wind and set up his four tents, he’s seen thousands of customers, with roughly 400 on the first day, he said. 

As Bailey, decked head-to-toe in red, white and blue Trump gear, spoke to a reporter, he was interrupted by a confused customer. 

“I want the one that says ‘F*** Biden,’” the customer said. Baily returned to the interview after ensuring the customer got what he wanted. 

“The F Biden always sells,” he said. 

Bailey is in town for the Trump rally, taking place Saturday at the Ford Wyoming Center. 

Trump is visiting Casper to support lawyer Harriet Hageman, his choice to unseat Rep. Liz Cheney. Cheney became one of Trump’s main targets after she voted to impeach him following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. 

The rally is expected to draw thousands to Casper. 

But even before the Trump visit, it was going to be a busy weekend for the Oil City. Casper will host high school graduations, a soccer tournament and a classic car show during the holiday weekend. 

All five hotels in closest proximity to the events are fully booked over Memorial Day weekend. Some have been at capacity since before Trump announced his rally. Once Trump’s visit was announced, however, hotel bookings soared. 

Each of the five hotels have around 100 rooms. 

“I just feel bad for the soccer people,” Debbie Nansen, an assistant at the Quality Inn, a hotel near the venue. “They’re not finding rooms at all for their kids.” 

The Motel 6, the lodging closest to the center, raised its prices from its typical rates of $55-79 per room to $220 per room specifically for the rally. 

Casper hotels farther away from the Ford Wyoming Center are so booked up that some rally goers are finding lodging in Douglas, a town about 50 miles down Interstate 25. 

Sam Kingsolver, general manager at a hotel on the outskirts of Casper, said she doesn’t know of a single hotel in Casper that still has occupancy. 

“The positive effect of that is visitors spend in the local economy,” said Tia Troy, spokesperson for Visit Casper. “It is going to make a major economic boost.” 

In all, the city expects to spend around $40,000 on additional staffing between police and fire, according to City Manager Carter Napier. 

Ford Wyoming Center General Manager Brad Murphy said the venue is expecting around 10,000 attendees.

“That’s really cool for our city. That’s really great for our state,” he said. 

One of Trump’s leadership PACs is paying “full rates” for staffing, rental of the facility and equipment. Murphy is not able to reveal how much a client pays, but full rates start at $5,000 to rent the entire venue, according to a document obtained by the Star-Tribune. 

Trump’s PAC is also renting 11 of the venue’s 14 parking lots (the others are for first responders) at $500 each, adding another $5,500, to bring the total spend to at least $10,500. 

Local officials anticipate needing every space in those lots, plus overflow near the venue. That doesn’t include the cost of staffing the event. 

Murphy said there will be at least 100 people working Saturday, including concessions, parking attendants and operational staff. Based on hourly rates for workers, labor will likely add at least another $2,500 to the bill. 

Around town, merchants are trying to get in on the action. 

Wyoming Shirt and Gift is printing new hats and shirts for the rally, mostly with “Let’s go Brandon,” a code for criticizing Biden. The business is hoping to make some extra money this weekend, but the former president is a consistent source of income, said John Trimmer, who is “sometimes” the manager of the shop. 

“We always capitalize on Trump,” he said. 

The Trump merchandise market is lucrative for some. 

After 26 hours of continuous driving, Brad Jackson and Mark Henson made it to Casper. The duo have been Trump merchandise vendors since 2015. Jackson doesn’t drive and slept “like a baby” most of the way, so Henson was powering through the whole time. 

“I don’t have stamina, I have four kids,” Henson said. 

Jackson is a father too, and Trump merchandise is the main source of income for both men, even after they donate about 20 percent of their profits to the former president. 

Ultimately their 1,700-mile journey from Baltimore to Casper cost $600 in gas. 

“When Trump was around, it would have been half that,” Henson said.