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At Trump Tower, true believers mix with the morbidly curious

FILE - In this Sept. 3, 2015 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York. Days before New York's presidential primaries, the 58-story tower in midtown Manhattan is a cross-section of the world, alive with chatter about the Republican front-runner. People mill around the massive marble entrance floors, sprinkled with boutiques and eateries all bearing his gold-lettered name. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Inside Trump Tower, altar to all things Donald, the throngs pouring into the soaring brass-and-glass atrium include both the true believers making a political pilgrimage and the truly turned off who still can’t look away.

Such is the odd fascination with the Donald Trump presidential campaign that has made his Fifth Avenue home a go-to destination for supporters and detractors alike.

There’s the famous escalator Trump rode down before launching his campaign with a speech labeling Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “criminals.” There’s the shimmering waterfall that’s been the backdrop for countless interviews. And there’s the shiny elevator that many an “Apprentice” contestant has taken down after being fired. For better or worse, it’s a place many see as a reflection (in highly polished brass) of the man who built it.

“I’m not really quite sure what he stands for exactly — but it certainly seems to be wealth,” said Gail Shields, a retired attorney from McLean, Virginia. She came to visit her banker son, who lives in the 58-story tower, where apartments can sell for more than $20 million.

“Everybody knows his brand shows power, strength, beauty. It shows worth,” said Jodi Flynn of Nanuet, New York, a “huge fan” who came to show her 9-year-old son the monument to Trump.

Flynn, who works in the hospitality business but has been out of a job for five months, said she believes Trump can boost employment better than any of the other candidates. “He’s not an official politician, thank God. We need a breath of fresh air.”

Trump remains an uneasy political puzzle to many, with visitors at the tower parsing pieces of the Republican front-runner as they stroll around the three massive levels of floor-to-ceiling marble, brass and chrome. Shops and eateries flash their names in bold, gold letters: Trump Grill, Trump Cafe and Trump Store, where “Make America Great Again” hats do a brisk business.

“This is definitely not my style. I cannot relate to it — but I’m fascinated by it,” said Jacob Katz, a writer who lives in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish enclave of Monroe, New York. “As far as the man himself, I have a lot of reservations about him. I think he is, quite frankly, arrogant.”

Sitting under the marble waterfall, Marcia Barasia awaited a call from the Trump offices upstairs so she could spend the afternoon making volunteer calls to potential voters, something she had also done at home in suburban Atlanta.

“The low-informed people, the people who call him a racist and say he hates Mexicans, are just taking what he says without listening to him,” Barasia said, adding that Trump makes more sense than other candidates when it comes to the economy and national security. “He has a very strong message that resonates with everyday people.”

There is nothing “everyday” about the surroundings in Trump Tower, but Barasia had an explanation for why that still worked for her. “It’s kind of funny about people and money. People want money, period.”

Nashville, Tennessee, mailman Donald Belton said he came to Trump Tower for one specific reason: “Hopefully I’ll see Donald Trump.”

The 60-year-old, who has been a Trump supporter since the billionaire announced his candidacy, added that, “If I see him, I’d tell him to keep on doing what he’s doing — concentrate on making America great again.”

Lenise Smith, a woman in her 20s from the Bronx who works in a nearby retail business, said she comes in almost every day to unwind during her lunch hour because she loves the space. She said she admires Trump’s business success but favors Hillary Clinton, “especially when it comes to women and abortion.”

Similarly, Swiss tourist Ulrich Rothhardt, 69, agreed the “it’s marvelous … the building is just incredible, but a country’s not the same as a building.”

“A future president of the United States should be credible and have a certain idea of what he’s going to do,” Rothhardt said. “He’s changing all the time.”

Swedish tourists Ralf Bjerstrom and his wife stopped at Trump’s Ice Cream while sightseeing and agreed that the over-the-top decor seems to match Trump’s personality.

“He’s also extravagant. He’s very pushy,” Bjerstrom said. “He is, in some ways, the archetype of an American. … Sorry.”

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