Donald Trump Jr. posts balloon race photo on social media

Published 1:31 am Tuesday, October 18, 2016


NATCHEZ — A hot-air balloon that got the attention of Donald Trump Jr. landed in controversy at the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race.

The red, white and blue balloon was emblazoned with the words “Make America Great Again,” the campaign slogan of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

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Robert Ambeau of Gonazales, La., piloted the balloon, one of dozens of balloons in last weekend’s balloon race.

A photograph of the balloon inflated on the festival grounds on the bluff was posted by Donald Trump Jr. to his Instagram and Facebook accounts with the caption, “Now that’s a campaign balloon!!! My friend sent me this from a fair in Natchez, MS this weekend. #maga #trump2016 #makeamericagreatagain #trump.”

As of Monday afternoon, the photograph had received 18,537 likes and 351 comments on Instagram and approximately 12,000 reactions, more than 1,600 shares and 572 comments on Facebook.

Ambeau’s balloon inflated on the grounds during Saturday evening’s music entertainment and apparently displeased balloon race patrons and others on the site. People in the balloon’s basket held signs endorsing Trump for president.

Since all of the pilots did not fly in Saturday’s barge drop, the balloon race committee made an announcement asking any pilots who wished to do so to inflate on the festival grounds.

The balloon was cheered and jeered by festivalgoers and apparently incited at least one argument among people at the site.

GMRBR Director Trevor Brown said he received complaints about the balloon and asked Ambeau to take the balloon down.

Brown said the race has historically had an unwritten policy that the balloon race does not permit political campaigning at the event. Brown said the race has denied requests from various campaigns in previous years to hand out campaign materials or signage at the race.

Ambeau, who said he is a Trump supporter, said he was not aware of a policy prohibiting political signage. When he was asked to take down the balloon, Ambeau said he questioned the reason but respected the request and immediately took down the balloon.

Ambeau said he was not aware the balloon caused any problems on site, as his attention was focused on ensuring the balloon inflated properly and safely.

“When you’re driving the car, you’re not reading the paper,” he said. “Since I’m the pilot, I’m making sure everything is right in the basket. Somebody could have been 10 feet away from me talking, and I wouldn’t have noticed them.”

Ambeau also said he is “100-percent certain” that he received a political banner endorsing George W. Bush to hang on his balloon from the Natchez balloon race sometime around 2005.

Longtime balloon race committee member Mimi Miller said definitively that Ambeau or any other pilot would have never received political signage from the balloon race committee.

Miller said the balloon race committee was disappointed in the political display.

“What should have been a moment to sit back and enjoy the success of (the race) … has ended up being a very sad thing for all of us,” Miller said. “People should not have to come to the balloon race and see anything that offends them.”

Brown said while the race has ensured in the past political campaigning with materials or signage did not take place at the race, the committee did not anticipate it being an issue with a balloon.

“It caught us all a bit by surprise,” Brown said.

The race committee will now ensure participants are informed about the policy regarding campaigning, Miller said.

“It’s not something, in 30 years, that we ever thought we had to include in the pilot’s letter,” she said. “But we won’t allow it to happen again.”

The balloon race does not have a political affiliation, and Brown said the committee apologizes for the political display.

“We certainly apologize to all of our guests for that happening,” Brown said. “Regardless of political affiliation … that’s not why you come to the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race.”