Donald Trump, the GOP’s 2016 presidential frontrunner, will address Liberty University students at convocation Jan. 18, the first day of classes for the spring semester.

Trump last visited Lynchburg in September of 2012, when he also spoke at a Liberty convocation.

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr. said he and his wife Becki have stayed in “close contact” with Trump and his top aide, Michael Cohen, since that visit. The Falwell’s son Wesley was married in October at the Trump Winery in Charlottesville, where Trump’s son, Eric, is president of the vineyard, Becki Falwell said.

In an interview Monday night, Falwell said a group affiliated with the RNC contacted GOP candidates to see if they would participate in a forum hosted by an outside group in February on campus after plans for a GOP presidential debate at Liberty in January fell through.

A number of GOP candidates said they would only commit to the debate if Trump was a part of it, he said.

Trump’s staff replied they would rather appear solo at Liberty, Falwell said.

Trump and Falwell also were in contact in December, following Falwell’s appearance on “The Sean Hannity Show,” where he defended his call at convocation for students to get concealed carry permits. Trump called Falwell to say he was proud of him, Becki Falwell said.

“[Trump] liked that Jerry said he compared Trump to Jerry’s dad,” she said.

During that roughly eight-minute segment on Fox News, Falwell offered his thoughts on who he said are his three favorite presidential contenders: Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz.

“I think Trump reminds me so much of my father,” Falwell said. “He says exactly what he thinks no matter what anybody cares.”

Liberty’s convocation — the largest weekly gathering of Christian university students — has drawn many of the current GOP political candidates, most recently retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who spoke at convocation Nov.11. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders addressed students Sept. 14, and GOP candidate Ted Cruz made his first campaign appearance there in March of 2015.

Falwell said he thought students will be excited a frontrunner in the Republican field “had taken time out of his schedule to come speak with us.”

“I think the students will be supporters and some will not be, like with (Bernie) Sanders,” he said.

The convocation will be open to the public, with a reserved section for local residents who want to attend, Falwell said.

Trump spoke at convocation on Sept. 24, 2012, sharing the stage with former GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann.

Contact Ashlie Walter at (434) 385-5532 or awalter@newsadvance.com. On Twitter: @ashliemwalter

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