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Trump Hits UFC Fights, Sneaker Show in Quest for New Voters

(Bloomberg) -- Cell phones out to capture the moment, the crowd roared as Donald Trump made his entrance, bumping fists with supporters.

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But it wasn’t a campaign rally packed with his loyal voters. The former president was at a UFC fight in Miami — a city he lost in the 2020 election to Joe Biden — with Black and Hispanic fans ringing the stage.

The warm welcome is one reason why his campaign sees an opportunity for Trump to reach beyond his usual base of largely White male backers to more diverse voters who may well help decide the outcome of the general election in November. But with some groups of undecided voters turned off by his incendiary rhetoric on women, immigrants and democracy, Trump has to rely on others to carry his message there, according to strategists.

“In order to win voters he’s isolated himself from — like suburban women — Trump needs a killer surrogate program with voices that can change their minds,” said Republican strategist and former RNC communications director Lisa Camooso-Miller.

Read more: Trump Leads in Polls But Badly Trails in Crucial 2024 Money Race

With appearances like the mixed-martial arts fight earlier this month, Trump is targeting narrower slices of the electorate where his name still gives him star power.

“You need to go where you’re not as known,” said Jordan Brown, a 31-year-old Black voter from Miami who backed Biden 2020 but plans to vote for Trump in November. “People are going to see that you actually do care about what people are doing.”

Outside the Miami stadium, Michelle De Lima, a 31-year-old financial administrator from Pennsylvania who recently became a citizen after immigrating from Brazil, said she planned to cast her first ballot for Trump.

“Coming to events like this breaks down the scrutiny that he is just looking out for business people and white people,” she said.

The Trump campaign is looking to branch out beyond the core of blue-collar White voters who helped him to victory in 2016 and events like the Ultimate Fighting Championship are key to that effort, according to spokesman Steven Cheung. He pointed to polls showing growing support among Black and Hispanic voters.

“It’s no longer this standard, establishment, regular Republican voting bloc, Trump has expanded it in a lot of different ways,” he said.

Trump has also done interviews with podcasts popular with UFC fans and young voters. In an episode with the Nelk Boys in April, he rattled off his usual interview material, explaining his gripes with the nation’s energy policy while also answering simple questions from the hosts such as what makes Taiwan important.

“Who the hell is Ice Spice?” Trump asked about the rising female rapper.

Trump has suggested he might host rallies at Madison Square Garden, and the campaign has discussed campaign stops in cities like Chicago, Cheung said. Trump lost there by well over 50 points in 2020.

He hasn’t always gotten a warm welcome in traditionally Democratic cities. In Philadelphia last month, he was met with a mix of boos and applause from the crowd at Sneaker Con. He was at the convention for collectors to show of his new line of $399 gold-colored basketball shoes.

“Wow, there’s a lot of emotion in this room,” Trump said, looking bemused.

Supporter Roman Sharf, a self-described Philadelphia “sneakerhead,” said he spent $9,000 for an autographed pair of Trump’s latest shoes.

“He’s now appealing to a very, very broad category by putting out a sneaker,” Sharf said.

While some strategists see Trump’s outreach to voters of color as tone deaf, allies see it as a chance to erode Biden’s support in core Democratic constituencies.

“Not everybody’s in a rally,” said US Representative Byron Donalds, a close Trump ally, at a rally in Rock Hill, South Carolina

And with his campaign facing financial pressures, these events offer lower-cost alternatives to his hallmark rallies.

In Miami, UFC fans welcomed the political attention.

“I feel like Biden should be doing events like what Trump is doing,” Xavier Fernandez, a 25-year-old business owner from Massachusetts, said as he entered the arena. He said he’s leaning toward voting for the former president in November.

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