HOLLAND, MI — Vice President Mike Pence said Michigan enjoyed three years of action and results since voters narrowly helped elect President Donald Trump in 2016.
Pence visited Portage and Holland for a busy day of campaigning for the 2020 election. More than 300 people attended the evening Holland rally to hear Pence’s pitch for why Michigan voters, who are expected to play a key role in the next presidential election, should give Trump another term.
“This is the best economy for American workers in American history,” Pence said. “Wages are rising at the fastest pace in a decade … According to the experts, wages are rising most rapidly for hardworking blue-collar Americans, the forgotten men and women.”
The vice president said the country is safer and more prosperous than ever. He celebrated Trump’s 2017 tax cuts, record-breaking stock markets and increases in defense spending, which Pence said helped U.S.-backed forces oust the Islamic State from Syria and kill ISIS leader Abu al-Baghdadi.
There were nearly 118,000 Michigan jobs added since Trump took office, though job growth stalled in 2019, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Wage growth in Michigan also lagged behind the rest of the country from June 2018 to 2019, according to BLS data.
Researchers at the University of Michigan expect the state to experience a moderate economic expansion in the next two years.
Republican U.S. Senate candidate John James made a surprise appearance in Holland, scoring big applause lines during his brief remarks. James won the surrounding Ottawa County by 27 points during his unsuccessful 2018 Senate campaign.
James is the lone Republican running to challenge Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, next year. He also warned of the dangers of socialism and Democratic leaders who “sell us illusions.”
“It is my honor to step up to the plate for one more time and run for U.S. Senate,” James said.
Pence cast the large field of Democrats vying for their party’s nomination as a group of radicals pushing for far-left “socialist” policies. He endorsed James for Senate, saying he wants to be known as James supporter “before it was cool.’
Former White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump needs more tough Senators in Washington like James. Sanders also posited a bleak picture of Democratic rule, saying “destructive chaos” will fall on the country if Trump isn’t reelected.
Pence addressed faith leaders at a non-denominational church in Portage earlier in the day, where he celebrated Trump as a strong ally of the religious community. Both events began with a prayer.
The Trump campaign will need to increase its margins in Republican strongholds like Ottawa County to offset Democratic gains in suburban areas. Trump won all but two counties in West Michigan and put up huge margins of victory in rural areas, but only took the state by 10,704 votes.
The two visits were also designed to appeal to an important part of Trump’s base — white evangelicals. Pew Research Center survey data found Trump maintains overwhelming support among white evangelicals, achieving a 70% approval rating with the group at the beginning of 2019.
Trump’s support in Michigan is less clear. Recent polls from The New York Times/Sienna College found Trump within the margin of error with his 2020 Democratic rivals. Morning Consult polling from this year found his approval rating hovered at or below 43% in each month of this year.
The Michigan Democratic Party argues Pence’s visit shows the Trump campaign sees signs of trouble ahead.
“Mike Pence and Donald Trump have broken the promises they made to Michiganders, and they’re terrified of losing because of it,” said Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes in a statement.
Barnes said Republicans are tied to Trump’s “unpopular agenda,” which will result in Democrats building on success in the 2018 midterm elections. Barnes highlighted Republican defeats in Louisiana and Kentucky.
“Mike Pence saw this too and that’s why he’s here,” Barnes said. “He sees Michigan rejecting Donald Trump’s broken promises and knows that will cost Donald Trump the presidency.”
Pence’s visits were held in smaller, more intimate settings when compared to Trump’s campaign events. The Holland venue could only hold 300 people, while Trump marshaled thousands to pack an arena in downtown Grand Rapids last spring.
The events were coordinated to lean into Pence’s ability to connect with voters in one-on-one interactions, staff said. Pence took time during all his stops to shake hands, take pictures and sign autographs with enthusiastic supporters.
Paw Paw resident Ray Martin was among a crowd of nearly 100 people who greeted Pence on the airfield in Kalamazoo County. Martin said Trump is moving the country in a positive direction, primarily citing the improved economy.
“I think he’s followed through and fulfilled more campaign promises than any other president that I’ve heard of,” Martin said. “How could you look at the record and not reelect the guy for another four years?”
Pence’s talking points were slightly tweaked for the two audiences, but he focused on abortion rights at both events. Pence said Democrats support late-term abortions and “infanticide.”
“This president and this party will always stand for life,” Pence said.
Not much was said about the intensifying impeachment inquiry, or the 300-page report House Democrats released Tuesday, which states Pence likely knew about an effort to extract personal political benefits from Ukraine.
Pence said Trump is facing “historic resistance and obstruction” from Democrats bent on removing him from office since he was inaugurated. The vice president said the inquiry is a “disgrace.”
“This sham impeachment should end and Congress should get back to work,” Pence said.
Pence didn’t take questions in Portage but participated in interviews with local broadcast media while traveling to Holland. Print reporters were not given a one-on-one interview with Pence, though it was requested by MLive.
Pence’s visit drew criticism from local Democrats like Bryan Berghoef, a Democrat seeking the party’s nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, in 2020. Berghoef is also a pastor at Holland United Church of Christ.
Berghoef said the community is happy to welcome all who visit, including Pence, but also criticized the vice president for his role in dividing the country.
“The political approach of our current President is to sow politics of division, denigrate all who disagree with him, and regularly disregard the truth,” Berghoef said. “I and many others are disappointed that fellow people of faith like Mike Pence and Bill Huizenga have stood idly by, or worse, have supported such tactics. We can and must do better.”
State Rep. Jon Hoadley, D-Kalamazoo, also criticized his district’s Republican congressman for standing with the Trump administration’s agenda. Hoadley is running for the Democratic party’s nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph.
“Congressman Upton and the Trump/Pence administration have failed to do anything to address skyrocketing health care and prescription drug costs, failed to act on climate change and failed to deliver any relief to working families struggling to get by,” Hoadley said in a statement.
The Holland campaign visit attracted dozens of protesters who gathered outside the venue. A handful of people also held protest signs when Pence’s motorcade passed outside Kalamazoo.
Pence promised Trump will return to Michigan many more times in 2020.
“Trump loves his country, he never quits,” Pence said. “He’s fighting for you, he believes in you. Now it’s our turn to fight for him.”