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During a rambling speech, in which he often didn't finish one applause line before moving to another, Donald Trump on Friday vilified Ted Cruz, questioned Mitt Romney's Mormon faith and promised to visit Utah again soon.
Trump spent 45 minutes with a tightly packed, rowdy crowd of about 500 at the Infinity Event Center in downtown Salt Lake City. He said he saw a big protest on the streets as his car drove from the airport, calling some of them agitators. No protesters disrupted Trump's speech, but a group outside the building blocked attendees from leaving for 15 minutes.
"You know, we have to be allowed our freedom of speech, folks," the billionaire businessman said. "We are not causing any problems."
His appearances in Salt Lake City and elsewhere have been far from normal political events after episodes of violence in some of his rallies and massive protests in Chicago that led him to cancel an event.
But Trump plunged ahead, hitting many of his favorite topics, from his strength in recent polls to his plan to build a wall along the border with Mexico to his opposition to international trade deals.
He said his staff originally planned to bypass Utah in the days leading up to the presidential caucus on Tuesday, but he overruled them.
"I want to go to Utah, what is going on in Utah?" he said, later adding that "I do love the Mormons."
Trump said he had a Jewish friend living in Utah who speaks highly of members of the LDS faith. And then he joked that he paid the tithing of some of his Mormon employees directly to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to avoid the temptation of taking the money.
"I have a lot of friends. ... By the way, Mitt Romney isn't one of them," Trump said to hoots from the crowd. "Are we sure he is a Mormon? Are we sure?"
Earlier in the day, Romney said on Facebook that he'll be caucusing in Utah for Ted Cruz, and he hopes Republicans will support the Texas senator in upcoming contests.
While he had previously campaigned with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Romney now argues that "a vote for Gov. Kasich in future contests makes it extremely likely that Trumpism would prevail."
"Through the calculated statements of its leader, Trumpism has become associated with racism, misogyny, bigotry, xenophobia, vulgarity and, most recently, threats and violence. I am repulsed by each and every one of these," Romney wrote.
Trump once again called Romney a "choker" and argued that his poll numbers spiked after Romney previously criticized him in a speech in Salt Lake City.
He trained far more sustained criticism at Cruz, who will hold campaign events in Utah on Saturday.
He said Cruz "is all talk, no action," "hasn't done anything" and isn't well-liked, noting that the Texan's only Senate endorsement has come from Utah's "Mike Lee, a nice guy."
He once again suggested that Cruz may not even be eligible to run for president because he was born in Canada and until recently had dual citizenship.
Trump also took a moment to revel in his big win over Florida Sen. Marco Rubio on Tuesday, which knocked him out of the race.
Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, was one of the many Rubio supporters who were disappointed. But Hughes became the state's highest profile Trump backer on Friday, showing up to warm up the crowd.
Before the rally, Hughes told The Salt Lake Tribune: "I have absolutely enjoyed how Donald Trump, as a candidate, has broken absolutely every rule of campaigns and elections I have grown to understand over the years."
He said Trump follows his gut and his gut hasn't let him down yet.
Hughes was previously a supporter of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who has dropped out of the race, and he said he wasn't going to endorse Trump if the front-runner's campaign wouldn't compete in the state.
When the Trump campaign promised to come to Utah, it changed his mind.
"Donald Trump has come to fight for Utah's support, so I'm going to fight for Donald Trump," Hughes said.
But that doesn't mean Hughes thinks Trump could win Utah's presidential caucus. Polls have shown that to be a long shot.
The Trump campaign could claim some delegates if he gets at least 15 percent of the vote.
Trump told the crowd to vote for him at the caucus, and "if you are going to vote for somebody else, don't vote." He suggested that his campaign could return to the Beehive State in the months to come.
And if it did, it would likely seek a bigger venue. His campaign hastily organized Friday's rally, originally hoping to hold it at the Utah State Fairpark.
He seemed a bit sheepish of the small space, particularly when hundreds of people were turned away at the door.
Salt Lake City's Randall Heiner wasn't going to let that happen. He got up at 4 a.m. Friday to get the details of the rally and was the first in line. He agrees with Trump on policy, Heiner said, but he was most excited for the "entertainment value" of a Trump event.
Next in line behind Heiner, Park City's Kate Fitzgerald was likewise drawn by Trump's star quality.
"I just really wanted to see him in person," Fitzgerald said. "I don't think any of the other [candidates] could beat Hillary [Clinton]."
Military veterans were ushered to the front of the line, which stretched from the entrance of the venue more commonly used for live music and country-western dance lessons east to State Street and then south to 700 South.
Many had hoped to attend the GOP debate scheduled for Monday, but they scratched that plan after Trump said he wouldn't attend and Kasich followed suit.
Salt Lake City's Darrell Boldt said he was "darn excited" to learn that he'd still have a chance to see Trump in person.
He doesn't favor the left or right, particularly, Boldt said. "I want somebody from outside of Washington."
West Valley City's Kearn Carlos Huerta waved a large American flag hung from a large tree branch, pacing up and down the line to engage Trump supporters with chatter. Huerta said he supports a Trump-Cruz ticket, or even a Cruz-Trump ticket.
An "ad hoc" group identified by organizer Robert Breeze as Citizens Against Left Wing Nazi Fascist Anti-Trump Event Disruptors secured a permit to demonstrate on the north side of the block.
"If any of the crazies come over, I plan on having them arrested," Breeze said.
Tribune reporter Matthew Piper contributed to this story