Trump woos Democrats in their heartland

A line formed outside for Donald J. Trump’s rally in Burlington, Vt. on Thursday, as more people tried to attend than the Flynn Center for Performing Arts could hold. Photo: Ian Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist for The New York Times

BURLINGTON, Vt. — Donald J. Trump touched down in one of America’s most progressive cities Thursday night, bringing the bombastic message that has captivated Republican voters into the backyard of a Democratic opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

The visit came as the billionaire real estate mogul has made a point of broadening his focus beyond the early primary states, showcasing his popularity with packed rallies from Mississippi to Massachusetts, and now Vermont — a onetime Republican bastion that is now one of the most solid liberal states in the nation.

The choice of venue seemed curious to some, but Thursday’s rally served multiple purposes for the Trump campaign: needling Mr. Sanders in his own neighborhood; garnering attention in nearby New Hampshire, which holds the nation’s first primary next month; and showing that the candidate can attract big crowds in a Democratic haven.

“They’re afraid to come up here because it has a tendency to be a little bit liberal, a little bit rough,” Mr. Trump said of his Republican rivals. “When you look at the candidates, I’m like the only one.”

A circuslike atmosphere greeted Mr. Trump as many more people tried to get into the event than the Flynn Center for Performing Arts could hold. A brass band played as demonstrators protested outside, and many waited hours to get into the rally, with organizers turning away activists who said they supported Mr. Sanders.

While much of Mr. Trump’s ire during the campaign has been directed at Hillary and Bill Clinton and Senator Ted Cruz as the voting nears, he has not hesitated to show his disdain for the policies of Mr. Sanders, whose socialist views he frequently derides. Thursday night was no different, as he accused Mr. Sanders of wanting to raise taxes sharply and called him a weakling for allowing Black Lives Matter activists to commandeer one of his rallies last year.

“Oh, I would love to run against Bernie,” Mr. Trump said to cheers. “That would be a dream come true.”

Offering a backhanded welcome ahead of his visit, Mr. Sanders said that he hoped some of Vermont’s progressive values might rub off on Mr. Trump. He also called Mr. Trump “a pathological liar.”

He added, “He just says things that have no basis in fact.”

While Mr. Sanders has said that he thinks his economic message could be appealing to Mr. Trump’s backers, Mr. Trump has also been promoting his potential to appeal to Democrats despite his criticism of the party’s leadership and policies.

In recent weeks, backers of Mr. Trump have even started a “ditch and switch” movement, urging Democrats and independents to join the Republican Party so that they can vote for Mr. Trump in primary elections.

On Thursday, many who waited to hear Mr. Trump speak said they thought he and Mr. Sanders have some things in common even though they sit on opposite ends of the political spectrum.

“I think he’s smart, and he has the best chance of winning support and maybe flipping the state,” Daniel Nadeau, 22, of St. Albans, Vt., said of Mr. Trump. “Bernie is my No. 1 choice, and Trump is No. 2. They’re not that different.”

Voters who were on the fence between the seemingly polar opposite candidates said both communicated well with working-class people and made strong cases for how they would improve the economy.

“I’m a Trump guy, but I do like Bernie,” said Peter Vincenzo, 59, who works installing hardwood floors and traveled from Ohio for the rally. “There are a lot of parallels between these two guys. There’s a populist appeal that comes with both of them.”