Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump slammed his rivals, praised his own business acumen and promised again to seal the country’s southern border before a boisterous crowd of 1,100 supporters at the Westin Portland Harborview hotel Thursday.

Trump’s 45-minute speech was preceded by an introduction from Gov. Paul LePage, who described him as “unafraid of the political establishment” and “the liberal media.”

“He’s going to fight for us while the establishment has left us behind,” LePage said.

Trump quickly cited his rising poll numbers and a candidacy that has defied pundits.

“This is a movement. There is no plateau. People have never seen anything like it,” he said.

When protesters shouted over the candidate’s speech. Trump directed security to escort them out.

“Get ’em out,” he said. “Bye-bye.”

The speech came just hours after 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney delivered a scathing broadside against the real estate mogul and television personality. Romney’s attack was widely viewed as a desperate effort to derail a nomination that some in the Republican establishment fear will doom the party’s chances to win the presidency for the first time since 2004.

Trump’s celebrity status and uncomplicated, nationalist message have proven resilient. Supporters braved chilly temperatures Thursday to stand in line and see him and, once inside the packed Westin ballroom, shouted down protesters and chanted “Trump! Trump!”

Hundreds of others who couldn’t get into the hotel remained outside, listening to the speech on a public address system.

Trump’s speeches have previously featured vague plans to crush terrorism, block illegal immigration and gain the upper hand in trade deals, layered with plenty of entertainment. The beginning of Thursday’s speech was no different, as he wasted little time firing back at Romney. Trump initially said he would only address Romney briefly, but he spent a significant portion of his speech taking down the 2012 nominee.

“Mitt is a failed candidate,” he said. “He failed horribly. That was a race that should have been won. He disappeared.”

He said Romney begged him for an endorsement in 2012.

“I could have said, ‘Mitt, drop to your knees’ and he would have dropped to his knees,” he said.

He frequently described Romney as a choke artist, repeating the description several times in a single reference.

“Mitt is indeed a choke artist,” he said. “He choked and he choked like I’ve never seen anyone choke.”

‘WORTH THE WAIT’

The crowd was energized before Trump took the stage. One Trump opponent drew the attention of the media and the crowd by displaying a sign on which he had penciled the word “Dump” above Trump’s name.

While some in the crowd shouted to “Get him out of here!” Portland police talked to the man, Walter Skold, and then stood nearby until the crowd settled down.

A registered Republican and former New Yorker, Skold said he believes Trump “would be a horrible president,” and that he would support a combined Cruz-Rubio ticket.

“He’d be divisive,” said Skold, of Freeport. “He is promising things that aren’t going to happen and he has a very distinct, anti-constitutional (slant) for what he proposes. I don’t think he respects free speech.”

But others liked what they heard Thursday.

“He was articulate, bright, sharp, fast on his feet,” Allen Holmes, 53, of Rockland, said after the rally. “When people hit him, he hits back twice as hard, which is the way it ought to be,” he said. “It was worth the three-hour wait in the cold.”

Romney, in a speech in Utah on Thursday morning, described Trump as a “fraud” playing the American public for “suckers.”

Romney’s call for a revolt came as some Republicans appear to be coming to grips with Trump as the nominee.

Trump’s visit comes less than a week after LePage announced that he was endorsing him on Boston radio host Howie Carr’s radio show. LePage’s backing drew a mixed response that was followed immediately by intrigue. A report in The New York Times revealed that LePage “erupted” during a Feb. 19 meeting of Republican governors in Washington, D.C., and urged them to mount a campaign against Trump.

LePage has since offered a tepid denial of the story, telling WVOM in Bangor that he was merely expressing frustration that Republican governors “stood on the sidelines” instead of uniting behind a candidate.

See C-Span’s telecast of the whole event:

‘A BREATH OF FRESH AIR’

Despite the delay that forced them to stand outside in the cold, Trump supporters were enthused about his visit.

“I’m excited to hear more about his plan,” said Prentiss Kurtz, 18, who skipped class at Oxford Hills High School for the event and was among the first to arrive.

She and other young Trump supporters who got to know each other waiting in the cold said they liked that he’s not a career politician but a successful businessman.

“He’s putting it to the establishment this time around,” said Michael McCann, 24, of Wiscasset. “He’s pretty much the only candidate that’s talking about immigration.”

John Sherwood, 69, of Old Orchard Beach, was another Trump supporter who liked his immigration policy.

“He’s bringing up issues that other people aren’t willing to talk about, like building a wall,” he said.

He and his wife aren’t sure who they’ll support in Saturday’s Maine Republican caucuses but they’re leaning toward Trump.

“To me he’s a breath of fresh air,” said Marie Sherwood, 67. “He speaks as it is. He says what people think.”

Trump’s immigration policy may inspire some, but it meets opposition from others, including the Portland Racial Justice Congress, which mounted a protest in Congress Square Plaza, adjacent to the hotel. The committee began organizing the event on Facebook after Trump’s visit was announced Wednesday afternoon.

Hundreds of protesters gathered at the corner of Congress and High streets, some carrying signs that read “Dump Trump,” “Don’t make America hate again” and, in a more sarcastic vein, “Cut schools, give billionaires tax breaks.”

“We’re just a bunch of billionaires that think Trump is going to do the right thing,” said Julia Legler, 24, of Portland.

Alex Serrano, 18, of South Portland, wearing a top hat and monocle, mined the sarcasm further.

“Get rid of the damn Muslims,” he said.

But a Trump supporter who showed up at the hotel, Tom Bordeau, 26, said he liked Trump’s blunt style.

“I think political correctness is killing the country,” Bordeau said. “He’s got good charisma. He’s got good energy.”

Bordeau also agrees with Trump that the minimum wage shouldn’t be raised.

“I believe that if you work hard in life, you’re going to get what you want,” he said.

Walter Bresette, 68, of Saco said he thinks Trump will bring respect back to the White House.

“He’s not a Republican. He’s not a Democrat. He’s his own man,” he said.

Justin Baggs, 34, of South Berwick, agreed.

“He speaks the truth. He’s a real person,” he said. “He obviously knows how to run a business. America’s a business.”

Suzanne Trudel, 75, of Gray, also believes he’s the only candidate for the job.

“I believe that he’s honest and that he will get things done for America,” she said. “He will unite us and the Republican Party.”

CRUZ TO VISIT

Trump’s visit came a day before rival Republican candidate Sen. Ted Cruz visits Maine, and a day after Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders packed the State Theatre for a rally, around the corner from the Westin.

Cruz is scheduled to attend a rally Friday at the University of Maine in Orono.

On Wednesday, during another interview with Carr, the Boston radio host, LePage questioned whether Cruz is eligible to be president because he was born in Canada.

“So I have a question there,” LePage said.

Cruz was born in Canada but asserts that he’s a “natural born citizen” because his mother was born in America.

The visits by Trump and Cruz come on the eve of Maine’s Republican Party caucuses, which will be held Saturday at 22 regional sites across the state.

Staff Writer Kevin Miller contributed to this report.