John Wahl said he started working to bring former President Donald Trump back to Alabama right after the state Republican Party picked him as chairman in February.
Earlier efforts fell through, including a planned rally July 3 at the U.S.S. Alabama Battleship park in Mobile.
Saturday night in Cullman, Trump will give a speech in Alabama for the first time in almost four years. And the event comes exactly six years after an upstart Trump first fired up an Alabama crowd at Ladd peebles Stadium in Mobile during the early stages of the campaign that would end with his victory in 2016.
Trump and his Save America political organization are holding Saturday night’s rally at York Family Farms, an outdoor concert venue that was site of the Rock the South music festival this weekend.
Wahl said Cullman was a good choice because of the large outdoor venue. And it’s a place where support for Trump is extraordinary, even for Alabama. Cullman is in the state’s 4th Congressional District, where Trump got 80% of the vote in 2016 and 81% in 2020, higher than any district in the nation, according to Daily Kos.
“It is literally in the heart of Trump country in one of Donald Trump’s most favorable states,” Wahl said.
Statewide, Trump got 62% of the vote in Alabama in 2016 and 2020, winning the state by margins of more than 25 percentage points.
Saturday’s rally starts at 7 p.m. Admission is free, but tickets are required.
Wahl said he did not know how many tickets have been ordered. Trump’s political organization, Save America, is managing the rally. He’s expecting strong attendance.
“Anytime you’re working with an outdoor venue a lot depends on weather and conditions in the area as well,” Wahl said. “But we would not be surprised to have 20,000-plus.”
Trump attended the Alabama-LSU football game in Tuscaloosa in 2019 and waved to the crowd in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
But Trump’s last political rally in Alabama came two years earlier, when he campaigned for Luther Strange for the Republican nomination in the special election for the Senate that year. Strange didn’t win, and the Republicans temporarily lost the Senate seat to Democrat Doug Jones that year. But Wahl said Alabama Republicans have a bond with the 45th president, which is why he made it a goal to bring Trump back to the state.
“The people of Alabama and Donald Trump have a special relationship,” Wahl said. “And I wanted to make sure everyone knew that the Republic Party is united and we’re working together and we’re preparing for 2022. That’s what this is about. We’re getting ready to challenge Democrats across the country and take back the House and the Senate.”
Wahl said the state GOP is not paying Trump of any of his political action committees for making the appearance.
Trump has endorsed Congressman Mo Brooks for the Republican nomination in next year’s race to succeed Sen. Richard Shelby, who is retiring. Other candidates for the GOP nomination are Lynda Blanchard who served as ambassador to Slovenia, Melania Trump’s home country, under the Trump administration; Katie Britt former president of the Business Council of Alabama and Shelby’s former chief of staff; and Jessica Taylor, chair and chief vision officer for Azimuth, a grant-consulting firm she founded in 2010.
Asked is he has concerns that the Trump rally could be seen as helping Brooks in the race against the other GOP candidates, Wahl said the Republican primary will not be a focus of Saturday night’s rally.
“When you look at the timeline, my original invitation came before the Mo Brooks endorsement,” Wahl said. “And it’s important to the Republican Party that we not take sides in a primary.
“Our part of the Donald Trump rally is about highlighting Donald Trump’s accomplishments and uniting the party for the general election.”
Asked whether the Senate candidates would appear on stage Saturday night, Wahl said details are still in the works. He said the list of other speakers has not been finished.
There will be a limited number of seats for dignitaries near the stage, Wahl said, but the crowd will be standing. Fold-up chairs won’t be allowed in because of security reasons, he said.
The rally comes as Alabama battles a surge in COVID-19 infection and hospitalizations that officials say is caused by the more contagious Delta variant and low vaccination rates. As of Monday, Alabama hospitals had a net availability of just two ICU beds. More than 2,600 patients were hospitalized with COVID, nearing the peak of about 3,100 in January.
“Number one, it was very important to us that we had an outdoor venue, because all the research says outdoor venues are far less likely to be at risk of COVID,” Wahl said.
He said masks and hand sanitizer stations will be available. Masks won’t be required. Wahl said that’s because Alabama has no statewide mandate in place, .
Also on Saturday, the State Republican Executive Committee will hold its summer meeting in Cullman.