CAYCE — Thousands of people happily sweltered for hours Monday outside Airport High School, in 100-degree heat, for what many called a "once in a lifetime opportunity" to see President Donald Trump in person.

"I wanted to feel the excitement I've seen on TV," said Dale Free, 65, of Leesville, who joined the line 12 hours before Trump was scheduled to take the podium. "I think if I got to shake hands with him, I'd fall out."

Trump's pep talk began about an hour late as weather delayed the landing of Air Force One.  

He came to South Carolina to rally support for Gov. Henry McMaster on the eve of his GOP primary runoff against Greenville businessman John Warren. But many of the people who lined up can't vote for either of them.

The line began at 2:30 a.m., with a mother-and-son pair from Hickory, N.C.  

"I wanted to make sure I was first," said Kim Martin, 55, a retired nurse, adding she didn't want a repeat of when she stood in line for 17 hours for a Trump rally in North Carolina and still didn't get in the door. She and her son left their home at 11:30 p.m. Sunday and — like others in line — came prepared with a cooler full of snacks and bottled water.

While most of the early liners came from across South Carolina, they also hailed from Atlanta, Charlotte, and Greensboro, N.C.  

"It's like tailgating without alcohol," said Jessica Berry, 40, of Charleston. She arrived with her daughter at 9 a.m. and set up camp in a foot-wide swath of shade from the school's roof. 

"I like that (Trump) says what he means. I don't mind that he's rough around the edges," said Berry, a human resources manager who says her boss gladly gave her the time off.

Matt Punch, 34, of Fort Mill, came with his own shade. He set up two large tents about 10:30 a.m. and shared with everyone lucky enough to fit under them.

Punch said he would've voted for McMaster even without Trump's endorsement. "He's more personable, more relatable" than Warren, he said. 

McMaster, the first statewide politician to endorse Trump's presidential bid, ascended to the governor's office when Nikki Haley became United Nations ambassador. 

"That loyalty thing — that's big with me," said Albert Wilson, 44, of Laurens, who arrived about 6 a.m. He said he took two days off of his construction job to see Trump on Monday and vote for McMaster on Tuesday.  

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Jeff Stallings, however, was a Warren supporter, but he was there as a Trump fan. "I hate that Trump's name is behind everything here," said the Blythewood resident. Warren, a political novice and businessman, is more like the president than McMaster, Stallings said. 

Bretta Reed Staley of Orangeburg, and her daughter, Kizzi Staley Gibson, were among few African-Americans standing in line.  

"There are more than just white Americans who support Trump," said Gibson, of Lexington, the head of a local Republican women's group. "There are more supporters. They just don't want to speak out."

Protestors Benjy and Tracey Varn of Pelion said they voted for Trump but got more than they wanted. They oppose his incendiary style and personal attacks on other people and politicians. 

"He's not morally qualified," Benjy Varn said. 

Andrew Brown contributed to this report.

Follow Seanna Adcox on Twitter at @seannaadcox_pc.

Assistant Columbia bureau chief

Adcox returned to The Post and Courier in October 2017 after 12 years covering the Statehouse for The Associated Press. She previously covered education for The P&C. She has also worked for The AP in Albany, N.Y., and for The Herald in Rock Hill.