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On primary eve, Trump stresses jobs to the faithful

Donald Trump culminated the most intense two weeks of presidential primary campaigning in New York history Monday night, driving an adoring First Niagara Center crowd into a frenzy as he promised to revamp trade agreements, repeal Obamacare and restore jobs to Buffalo and elsewhere in the state.

Trump seemed to speak in overdrive, lambasting opponents such as “Lyin’ Ted Cruz” and “Crooked Hillary Clinton” while calling for a rejection of the economic policies that he says has driven jobs from communities such as Buffalo. He continually cited the loss of manufacturing jobs in Buffalo and throughout New York State and promised he will “restore” the country to what he called past glory.

“We’re going to be so strong,” he said. “You’re going to be so proud.”

Trump added that “this is the last big speech I’m making in New York. We’re going to win at every element of what we’re doing.”

On the eve of Tuesday’s Republican and Democratic primaries in New York, the biggest prize yet in the presidential nominating process of 2016, Trump neither broke new ground nor changed his message. But the New York billionaire businessman seemed to confirm the strength of his front-running status by hitting touchstone issues that resonated with a crowd that filled less than two-thirds of the arena that holds slightly more than 18,000.

Arena staff estimated the crowd at 11,000 to 12,000, and police put the figure at 11,425.

Trump drew boisterous cheers after reciting a litany of proposals and then returning to a key phrase: “And we’re going to build that wall,” referring to his oft-stated intention of build a wall at the Mexican border to stem the tide of illegal immigration.

“We’re going to have strong borders where people can come in,” he said, “but they’re going to have to come in legally.”

Trump told The Buffalo News in a phone interview Friday that he expected his campaign to soon retreat from some of the especially tough rhetoric he has used since announcing his candidacy in June. On Monday, however, he punctuated his short, staccato sentences with a finger in the air and much of his trademark combativeness. The idea of being more “presidential” seemed to be put on hold.

“I don’t want to get more presidential until I win,” he said.

Trump worked hard to play to the Buffalo crowd. He frequently reminded his audience of Buffalo’s diminished job base and its economic challenges. And as he has throughout his campaign, he blamed much of the malaise on “stupid trade deals” such as the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“Fewer cities in America have taken a harder hit,” he said, citing labor statistics showing the drastic decline of manufacturing in New York.

“It’s not your fault; it’s the politicians representing all of us,” he said.

Several times, he faulted trade deals crafted by presidents, including Bill Clinton. China enjoys all the advantages of its trade agreements with the United States, he said, and that must be corrected.

“If you want to do business in China, it’s virtually impossible to get your product in,” he said. “This is not free trade. This is stupid, stupid stupid trade.”

Bill Clinton, he reminded his audience, is married to Hillary Clinton, and Trump pointed to her sudden opposition to some new trade pacts. “NAFTA, that is a total disaster,” he said. “And Trans-Pacific Partnership? It’s going to make NAFTA look like peanuts.”

Trump blamed his GOP opponents – Texas Sen. Cruz and Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich – for failing to recognize the effects of such agreements.

“No New Yorker can vote for Kasich when he was in favor of NAFTA,” Trump said, referring to the former congressman’s votes, “when it has been a disaster for your state and this city.”

As he has for the last several days, Trump attacked Cruz for his earlier criticism of “New York values” as the embodiment of liberal politics. Trump pointed to the New York police and firefighters, as well as the dedication of working-class residents of the state.

“By the way, Ted Cruz – Lyin’ Ted Cruz, Lyin’ Ted – is one of the great liars of all time,” he said.

Trump again pointed to the response of New Yorkers after the 9/11 terrorist attacks as “very close to my heart.”

“I saw the greatest people I ever saw in action. I saw the bravest people I ever saw,” he said. “That’s what New York values are all about.”

Trump then seemed to prompt about as many cheers and noise as an overtime goal in the arena that is home to the Buffalo Sabres as he finished his approximately hourlong speech.

“So here’s the story: You’re going to leave here and say, ‘That was a great evening.’ Tomorrow, you are going to vote. You’re going to make sure all your friends vote,” he said

“And you’re going to remember … this evening, and you’re going to remember to vote,” he added. “You’re going to look back in four years, and 12 years and 25 years and say, ‘That’s the greatest single vote I’ve ever cast.’ ”

Trump walked to the podium to tremendous applause at 7:30 p.m., after an introduction by Rex Ryan, head coach of the Buffalo Bills. “He’ll say what’s on his mind,” Ryan said of Trump.

Trump seemed energized by the frenzied crowd that sounded as if the arena were filled. As he has in his travels across New York in the last two weeks, Buffalo developer Carl P. Paladino also spoke before Trump’s speech. The 2010 Republican nominee for governor delivered an impassioned exhortation for Trump and minced no words in denouncing hundreds of reporters gathered in the arena – and getting the big crowd to cheer him on.

“What we’ve watched in Washington for the past seven years is disgusting, and we’re not going to take it anymore,” Paladino said. “Are we mad? Turn around and tell that to the press. We allow them to think they can continue to control our thinking and our acting – and we’re done with them.”

Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, also figured as one of Trump’s main cheerleaders, firing up a crowd by resurrecting his own 2007 successful campaign slogan for Erie County executive: “We need a chief executive, not a chief politician.”

Collins latched onto Trump’s opposition to foreign trade pacts, saying that “countries like China and Mexico continue to steal our jobs.”

“Enough is enough,” Collins boomed. “It’s time to take back our country – the United States of America.”

Recognizing that scuffles and fisticuffs have broken out at previous Trump rallies across the country, a public address announcer asked the crowd just before Trump took the stage to refrain from any confrontations with protesters. Police ended up ejecting about 20 people who disrupted Trump during his speech. That prompted him to utter what has become a trademark phrase when protesters interrupt: “Get ’em outta here.”

Police later said that six people were arrested, all outside the area.

Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy acted as master of ceremonies in his role as one of the major New York State GOP leaders backing Trump.

A festive atmosphere dominated the arena for more than three hours before the event, with crowds lustily applauding a previous Barbara Walters video interview of the candidate that appeared on the overhead scoreboard.

Huge cheers arose whenever Trump mentioned wiping out the Islamic State or building a wall on the Mexican border.

All of this occurred as Trump continues to lead every New York poll by a wide margin. The latest, the Marist poll released Saturday, showed Trump with 54 percent, Kasich with 25 percent and Cruz with 16 percent.

The Buffalo rally occurred amid a shakeup in the Trump campaign. He told top staff members Saturday that he wants his recent campaign hires – Paul Manafot and Rick Wiley – to take charge in coming primary states, Washington news website Politico reported. The moves shrink the role of Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski.

Trump also gave his new campaign team $20 million for primaries in May and June, more than any previous level of spending in his campaign, Politico said.

News Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski contributed to this report. email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com