LAS VEGAS -- As Donald Trump complained about how his nose looked on the cover of People magazine last week, he spotted a woman in the crowd waving a copy.
"There it is! Come here!" Trump said, walking across the stage and pulling up Myriam Witcher, an immigrant from Colombia who has become one of his super-fans. Witcher bounced with the excitement of a teenaged girl meeting a boy-band heartthrob: "I love Mr. Trump!"
"I am Hispanic," she proclaimed to the mostly white crowd at a rally here on Thursday afternoon, "and I vote for Mr. Trump!"
The encounter, Trump quickly acknowledged to the crowd, was so perfect that it seemed staged: A self-described Hispanic woman living in an early-voting state declaring her support for the Republican presidential front-runner who has had difficulty connecting with Hispanic voters -- especially as he has suggested that many illegal immigrants are criminals and rapists, called for the deportation of the 11 million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States and advocated for the construction of a massively expensive wall along the southern border and no longer granting automatic citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants.
Despite the crowds of angry immigration activists who gather outside many of his events, Trump insists that most Hispanic voters love him. At the beginning of the rally, Trump took credit for employing thousands of Hispanics at his construction sites and resorts. Then Witcher joined him on stage and used the word "love" over and over again.
"And is this a set-up?" Trump asked Witcher, as she shook her head. "Did I ever meet you before? Huh?"
Witcher then exploded with enthusiasm, jumping up and down: "We love you! We love you! We love you!"
"I swear to you -- I think she's totally beautiful and yet I've never met her before," Trump said. "This all started with a People magazine."
Trump signed the magazine, kissed Witcher on the head and sent her back to her seat, declaring: "And that's my relationship with Hispanics." Later in the day, he tweeted: "Just leaving Las Vegas. Unbelievable crowd! Many Hispanics who love me and I love them!"
Trump's political rallies often feel like a circus -- but the one Thursday afternoon at the Treasure Island Hotel, Casino and Resort on the Las Vegas Strip was even more of a spectacle. The rally was held in a theater on the converted set of Cirque du Soleil’s Mystere show, which features high-flying acrobatics and actual circus spectacles.
"At full capacity, the theater sits over 1,500 spectators," the Las Vegas Sun newspaper reported Thursday morning. "By showbiz standards, it's small. By political ones, it's big."
More than three hours before the rally was set to begin, hundreds waited in a long line that snaked past a pizzeria, past a den of slot machines with games named "daVinci Diamonds" and "Pharaoh's Funtune," past a gift shop selling gummy dice and souvenir drink-ware, through the casino floor, past a buffet restaurant and a mojito bar, past poker tables and into a lobby. There was an elderly woman wearing a pink "birthday girl" sash, a group of young women in tight dresses and high heels, and dozens in various Trump-branded T-shirts. Two Elvis impersonators were in attendance, along with a Trump impersonator who borrowed the politician's love for dramatic hand gestures as he said: "Vote for Donald. I want to see him in office in 2017."
The concession stand served popcorn. Before the businessman had even entered the theater, the crowd was already cheering in anticipation.
Trump spoke for more than an hour and rattled off some of his policy stances -- but spent most of his time complaining about media coverage of his candidacy, bragging about his poll numbers and wealth, slamming his Republican rivals one by one and acting like a, well, celebrity. He chatted about the years he hosted "The Apprentice," the reality game show on NBC, and plugged his upcoming book, "Crippled America."
“I go home, and I say, 'I’m going to watch myself on television,’" Trump said at one point, as he complained about CNN. "Who wouldn’t do it?”
The crowd responded enthusiastically to Trump's rhetorical questions, cutting comments and jokes with applause, cheers and, at times, boos. There were screams of "We love you Trump!" and "We want Trump!" At times it felt like a rock concert -- although Trump made clear that these rallies are not just a spectacle.
"This is more than just a group of people listening to a speech," Trump said, as he wrapped up his comments. "This is a movement."
As Trump prepared to leave the stage, Aerosmith's "Dream On" blared. Trump pointed to fans in the crowd, flashed thumbs-up and, at one point, did some air-drumming. Meanwhile, reporters surrounded Witcher, who was still beaming about meeting the candidate.
"I am an American citizen, and I vote Trump all the way to the White House," said Witcher, who said she became a citizen about 14 years ago. "I love Trump... He is a genius man. He is a business legend. I only vote for a genius person... Donald Trump is the right man for America and for the world wide."