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After Tulsa Rally, Trump Heads to Arizona, Wisconsin

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 6/22/2020 Alex Leary, Andrew Restuccia
a crowd of people watching a baseball game © Evan Vucci/Associated Press

WASHINGTON—President Trump’s campaign planned for a raucous show of force at a rally in Oklahoma but has found itself in a back-and-forth with critics over crowd size Sunday, as the campaign looked ahead to an event in Arizona on Tuesday.

Trump aides blamed the news media for the smaller-than-expected crowd because of coverage of protests and coronavirus infections leading up to Saturday’s rally in Tulsa, Okla. The campaign also said that protesters outside the arena blocked people from entering, though Wall Street Journal reporters at the event didn’t see that happen. Tulsa police said the protests outside the arena were largely peaceful.

Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin tweeted Sunday, “Thank you Tulsans for showing the world how to let views be heard without violence.”

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About 6,200 people attended the rally at the 19,000-seat BOK Center, Tulsa officials said Sunday. Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were also supposed to speak to an overflow group outside the arena, but that was canceled as the crowd dwindled.

The smaller attendance has prompted some allies of the president to privately criticize Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale, who has already faced some grumbling. Hours before the rally, Mr. Parscale was spotted eating lunch mid-afternoon at the Daily Grill, a few blocks from the BOK Center. Mr. Parscale was aware in the afternoon that the crowd size was turning out to be lower than expected, according to a person familiar with the events.

The president, who likes to emphasize crowd size at his rallies, spent part of Sunday at his golf club in Virginia. He is scheduled to attend a “Students for Trump” gathering in Phoenix on Tuesday in addition to a border security event in Yuma, also in Arizona. On Thursday, he plans to travel to Wisconsin, another key battleground state, for a speech at a shipyard.

The campaign also denied it had gotten pranked by people, including users of the social-media platform TikTok, who said they signed up for the rally with no intention of going. “You just got ROCKED by teens on TikTok,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) tweeted Saturday night at Mr. Parscale.

“Leftists and online trolls doing a victory lap, thinking they somehow impacted rally attendance, don’t know what they’re talking about or how our rallies work,” Mr. Parscale said in a statement Sunday. He said the campaign weeds out bogus ticket requests using cellphone numbers and that those requests didn’t factor into expectations.

He had previously said that 1 million people requested tickets and that he hoped to have 100,000 supporters at the rally inside and outside.

“The fact is that a week’s worth of the fake news media warning people away from the rally because of COVID and protestors, coupled with recent images of American cities on fire, had a real impact on people bringing their families and children to the rally,” Mr. Parscale said.

The campaign also accused counterprotesters of disrupting the event. There were some scuffles between the two sides, but Tulsa police described the scene as mostly peaceful.

Mr. Trump’s campaign was looking for a strong showing in Tulsa following months of challenges, including hits to the economy due to the virus and nationwide protests over policing and racial justice issues. Branded a “great American comeback” festival, it was Mr. Trump’s first rally since March 2. Polls show Mr. Trump is losing ground on some issues to presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

With less than five months before Election Day, a Real Clear Politics average of nationwide polls showed Mr. Biden with a nearly 9 percentage point advantage over Mr. Trump, though surveys in some swing states are closer. Mr. Trump frequently notes that many polls underestimated him in 2016.

Ahead of the rally, the campaign said that six staffers had tested positive for coronavirus. They didn’t attend the rally, but the development generated news hours before Mr. Trump took the stage and delivered a 1-hour 41-minute speech that played heavily on a law-and-order message.

Write to Alex Leary at alex.leary@wsj.com and Andrew Restuccia at Andrew.Restuccia@wsj.com

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