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‘Front Row Joes’ first in line for Trump rally

Richard Burr
The Detroit News

Washington Township — Call them dedicated. Call them loyal. Call them by their preferred nickname, the “Front Row Joes.”

Randal Thom, 58, of Lakefield, Minnesota, and Cindy Hoffman, 57, of Independence, Iowa, were the first supporters of President Donald Trump to arrive here in advance of his scheduled Saturday 7 p.m. re-election campaign rally. They arrived at 3 a.m. Friday at the Total Sports Park, Thom said.

Randal Thom, 58, of Lakefield, Minnesota, and Cindy Hoffman, 57, of Independence, Iowa, show their support for President Donald Trump on Friday, April 27, 2018 outside the Total Sports Park in Washington Township, Michigan.

The “Front Row Joes” moniker applies to Trump supporters who get to rallies early in hopes of getting the best spots. Thom set up a chair with a 2016 Trump Pence campaign sign and another folding chair with a handwritten sign saying “Front Row Joes for President Trump.”

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Thom has been quoted or photographed for a Trump rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in June 2017 and a late March speech in Minneapolis by Vice President Mike Pence on the benefits of the recent tax cuts.

Thom, a Marine Corps veteran and an Alaskan Malamute breeder, drove 850 miles from southwest Minnesota and picked up Hoffman in Iowa along the way.

The only road into the Total Sports Park off of M-53 is a dirt and gravel road that connects to a dusty paved road on which the facility is located. There is still a lot of dirt surrounding the park, although the facility is surrounded by soccer fields, where two large wild turkeys were strutting in the distance.

President Donald Trump is scheduled to speak Saturday night, April 28, 2018, at the Total Sports Park in Washington Township. It is a low-slung facility that can only be reached by driving first down a dirt and gravel road to a short distance of paved road.

“We need to get out here and support him,” Thom said about Trump. “He’s getting attacked left and right.”

The president’s re-election campaign has emphasized that Trump is skipping dining with the media elite at the White House Correspondents Association dinner in Washington, D.C., to spend time with average Americans in Washington Township.

Thom is glad the president is doing so, but isn’t sure the park, which opened in January, is up to Trump’s rally standards. The president is expected to give his talk inside the park, where workers were busily moving in stands on Friday morning.

“The president is not going to be happy when he sees this setup,” said Hoffman, a veteran of 30 Trump-Pence rallies.

Cindy Hoffman, 57, is the owner of TriState Tool Sharpening in Hudson, Iowa. She and friend Randal Thom of Minnesota arrived in Washington Township, Michigan, at 3 a.m. Friday, April 27, 2018, in advance of President Donald Trump’s scheduled 7 p.m. rally on Saturday, April 28.

Total Sports Park employees could not estimate how many people the facility could hold, deferring to the local police and Secret Service.

But the rally is expected to be mostly a standing event with limited concessions such as water inside the park. Attendees may bring lawn chairs for standing in line but can’t bring them inside the facility.

Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan hits a nerve for Hoffman, who owns the TriState Tool Sharpening firm in Hudson, Iowa.

Hoffman’s company lost tool sharpening business from the John Deere tractor and machinery manufacturer when it sent work to Mexico in the mid-1990s, she said. This was after the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect in 1993.

“I’m here to say he is making America great again,” she said.

rburr@detroitnews.com