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November 03, 2016

Melania Trump rallies supporters in Chester County

Chants of "Trump, Trump, Trump," cascaded throughout the Main Line Sports Center, where Melania Trump made her first solo campaign appearance Thursday on behalf of her husband, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Melania Trump kept her speech brief, telling of her journey to the United States and her commitment to American families in a mere 15 minutes. But her message resonated with hundreds of Trump supporters who gathered in Berwyn, Chester County, just five days before Election Day. 

Mrs. Trump mostly has stayed out of the spotlight during the campaign, remaining at home to raise the couple's 10-year-old son, Barron, while Donald holds rallies across the country. 

TRANSCRIPT: Melania Trump addresses voters in Chester County

But the Trump campaign  dispatched Melania Trump to rally support in Pennsylvania, a state deemed by many to be critical to a Trump victory. The Republican presidential nominee has narrowed the gap in national polls, but he trails Democrat Hillary Clinton by three or four percentage points in Pennsylvania.

Melania Trump spoke of growing up in communist Slovenia, dreaming of the opportunities America offers. She proudly described her route to U.S. citizenship, saying she and Donald value American freedoms and liberties as much as anyone.   

"America meant if you could dream it, you could become it," Mrs. Trump said. 

She reiterated her husband's pledges to restore security, economic prosperity and American pride. But she also told of her family, touting Donald's love and loyalty, and committing to be an advocate for American women and children. She said many women have been "left behind" in poverty and pledged to combat the bullying of children on social media. 

"We need to teach our youth American values — kindness, honesty, respect, compassion, charity (and) understanding," Mrs. Trump said.

Her speech came as her husband continues to be scrutinized for his treatment of women. Democrats and some Republicans blasted him after a 2005 recording surfaced in which he vulgarly boasted of the way he did not wait before kissing or touching women. In the ensuing days, several women have come forward, alleging Trump had sexually assaulted them, accusations Trump has denied.

"I think she did a great job portraying her husband as what the media doesn't portray him as," Ashley Reed said. "It's nice to hear from her because she knows him the best."

Reed, 30, of Wyomissing, Berks County, listed security, economic and healthcare issues as more important than the assault allegations against the Republican candidate, saying Clinton carries her own questionable baggage.

"The value of being a wife and a mother is something that's overlooked," said Sarah Cadwell, 43, of Malvern, Chester County. "I'm an attorney. I'm a professional woman. When you look at feminism and women, to have a choice — it's (showing) respect to all those choices."

Cadwell said those allegations should be treated seriously, but she cannot reduce a candidate's entire life and experiences to a single concern. 

"I'm trying to keep my eyes on the forest and not being distracted by the tree," Cadwell said.

Many Trump supporters, like Vince DeMito, listed national security as a prime concern. 

DeMito, 66, of Collegeville, Montgomery County, supports Trump's proposal to build a wall along the Mexican border, but also expressed concern at the influence ISIS is having domestically. If Trump accomplishes half of his goals, DeMito said, it will be more than President Barack Obama has done in eight years.

"Donald is not a politician," DeMito said. "Donald can't be bought. I believe he's going to do what he says he's going to do. He doesn't have a filter and, sometimes, that's good."

Trump supporters began gathering at Main Line Sports Center several hours before Melania was set to speak. Outside, vendors hawked T-shirts, buttons and other campaign regalia. Many who came were wholehearted in their support for Trump. But some saw him simply as the better of two candidates.

"I feel it's extremely important for the country, and most importantly, that Hillary is not elected," said Jamie Yannacone. "I don't think Trump is perfect. But, at the end of the day, you have two choices. ... I truly believe we need change. There's not going to be change if Hillary is elected."

Yannacone, 42, of Media, Delaware County, is a lifelong Republican who worked for the Bob Dole campaign in 1996 and George W. Bush's re-election campaign in 2004. He previously supported Marco Rubio, but he says he does not trust Clinton.

Yannacone said he recognizes Trump is not an ideal role model and has various faults. But he expects Trump to surround himself with smart people capable of running the country well. And he suspects more people are voting for Trump than polls show, a possibility being discussed by the press.

"I think there's a lot of people voting for Trump that just don't say it," Yannacone said.

Liz Capozzi Mercogliano, 58, of Malvern, Chester County, proudly noted she is a lawyer, registered nurse and realtor — evidence, she said, that Trump is drawing support from college-educated voters, as well.

A former Tredyffrin/Easttown School District board member, Mercogliano said she supports Trump because she wants to see improvements in the American health care system. To start, she supports repealing the Affordable Health Care Act.

"Just take it away and do a competitive market across the states," she said. That way, "we can shop in California (or elsewhere) for insurance. This is ridiculous. You're bankrupting employers and employees."

Melania Trump previously spoke at the Republican National Convention in July. A portion of her address closely resembled a speech by Michelle Obama at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, leading to accusations of plagiarism.

The Trump campaign later said Melania had read passages of Obama's speech to her speechwriter, as an example of a message that inspired her. The speechwriter later included some of those passages in Melania's speech without checking transcripts of Obama's speech, the campaign said.