Hundreds of people waited in lines for more than two hours to see the man they hoped will be the next president of America.
They wore red, white and blue and filled the stands, floor and entries into the indoor arena at the Johnson County fairgrounds.
Some drove hours to hear U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz during a rally to garner support in his bid to become the Republican nominee for president.
His speech Monday night was Cruz’s second stop in Johnson County, after greeting supporters at Jockamo Upper Crust Pizza in Greenwood.
In the days leading up to the event, local officials worked to find a venue large enough for at least 500 people, police mapped out security plans and the Johnson County Fair Board called on volunteers to clean up the fairgrounds.
For more than nine hours, the fairgrounds was transformed as vendors set up tables to sell buttons, hats and T-shirts and crews from national television networks came to Franklin.
More than 1,200 people came to hear Cruz talk about the three main points of his campaign: jobs, freedom and security. As the room filled, supporters were ushered toward the only open space in the back of the crowd.
“The eyes of the nation are on the state of Indiana,” Cruz said. “The media isn’t going to decide this race. The people are going to decide this race. The focus of the race is on you.”
If elected, Cruz wants to return to the presidential policies of Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy, he said.
He wants to create more jobs for young Americans so they can have job offers by the time they graduate college, Cruz said.
The Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama, would be repealed since that is impacting the number of full-time jobs, he said.
“I will repeal every word of Obamacare,” Cruz said.
Cruz also addressed recent news that he and fellow Republican presidential candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich will team up in order to stop Donald Trump from winning the nomination.
“This is the only campaign that can beat Trump and Hillary (Clinton),” Cruz said. “If Donald (Trump) is the Republican candidate, Hillary wins by double digits. If I’m the nominee, we beat Hillary.”
Cruz came to Johnson County because Indiana will award delegates not just for the overall winner, but for each congressional district, as well, in next week’s primary election, said Kurt Luidhardt, a White River Township resident who is the senior campaign adviser for Cruz in Indiana. He has worked with the campaign to line up rallies and appearances throughout the state.
Johnson County’s significant number of Republican voters, as well as being an important part of Indiana’s 9th Congressional District, made it an ideal campaign stop, Luidhardt said.
Supporters who came to watch Cruz speak said they were pleased he was spending time in smaller communities.
Nineteen-year-old Paul Annee already planned to vote for Cruz, but seeing the candidate speak in-person confirms Cruz’s stance on top issues such as immigration and improving the economy.
“It validates, for me, that this country is worth fighting for,” Annee said. “It validates, for me, that there are people in this country who are not just a part of the Washington ‘cartel.’ That there are good, decent people who are really trying to make a difference in this country, and he gives us the encouragement and the strength to keep fighting at a grassroots level.”
Seeing a candidate come to a community such as Franklin gave resident Carol Hedrick goosebumps, she said.
“Not that Franklin is such a peon town, but you know, that one of them would actually come here. That says a whole lot, that he values the small town values,” Hedrick said.
Local Republican Party officials said Cruz’s stop showed the importance Indiana and Johnson County are playing in this year’s presidential election — a race that is often decided before Hoosiers ever vote.
The event was historic for the county, and was the first time in at least 50 years a candidate had hosted a rally open to the public in Johnson County. In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama surprised diners and ate breakfast at the Four Seasons Family Restaurant in the Center Grove area.
Supporters said they appreciated Cruz’s stance on three issues: immigration, repealing the Affordable Care Act and abolishing the Internal Revenue Service.
Franklin resident Bud Knox said he began supporting Cruz three years ago, when Cruz read “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss on the Senate floor.
“I became a Ted Cruz supporter when he stood up in the Senate and he went against everybody else, how he did the Dr. Seuss thing (in 2013),” Knox said. “When he stood up against the (Washington) cartel, that’s when I fell in love with Ted Cruz.”
Moments before Cruz entered the indoor arena, the crowd chanted his name.
The group stood and applauded, yelled and cheered as Cruz walked onto the stage. Fathers hoisted younger children onto their shoulders.
With every statement that garnered raucous applause from the crowd, thumbs went up, fists pumped and hats waived in support of Cruz. They cheered an invitation Cruz extended to his opponent, Donald Trump, to agree to a debate in Indiana.
Brent Myers and his family stood on risers behind Cruz, clapping and cheering throughout the event. The Myers family drove two and a half hours from their home in Dubois County, donned Texas themed shirts and were some of the first to get in line.
Before any other supporters were let into the arena, the Myers family was pulled from the line and asked to sit in the special section. The family has gone to more than 125 homes to ask voters to support Cruz.
“We are out on the campaign trail knocking door-to-door for him. Now, when I go back and knock on the doors, it just brings more of an impact to meet someone who has actually been with him,” Myers said. “It (was) a wonderful thing to be in his presence.”