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Portage — It’s time for any reluctant Republicans to “come home” and help make Donald Trump the next president of the United States, running mate Mike Pence said Thursday.

The Republican vice presidential nominee had high-profile help as he appealed to any GOP voters who may remain on the fence. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who finished second in Michigan’s Republican primary, joined Pence at the Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Center in Portage, just south of Kalamazoo.

“If your health insurance premiums have gone up like just about everybody’s in America, then you ought to vote for Donald Trump and Mike Pence and Republicans up and down the ticket,” said Cruz, who criticized recently announced double-digit rate hikes for plans offered under the Affordable Care Act.

Michigan has emerged as a late battleground in the Nov. 8 election. Democrat Hillary Clinton is seeking to hold off Trump in a state he has aggressively targeted despite more than two decades of futility by GOP presidential candidates.

Trump was in Michigan on Monday, and Clinton is expected Friday afternoon in Detroit’s Eastern Market.

“A week ago all of Hillary Clinton’s allies in the media were saying this race was all but over,” Pence said, “but I think you in Michigan know better. You know here in Michigan this race is on. We are wheel to wheel here in Michigan and all across America.”

Pence touted Trump as the candidate of change. The businessman has not held political office, while Clinton served as first lady, a U.S. Senator for New York and as secretary of state under President Barack Obama.

“The other party has literally nominated someone who personifies the failed establishment in Washington D.C.,” Pence said. “I think the American people have had enough. They’ve especially had enough of the fast and loose ethics of the Clintons, and it sounds like the Department of Justice is getting there too.”

With five days until Election Day, Cruz is hitting the campaign trail for Trump for the first time this cycle after initially declining to endorse the Republican nominee following their bitter primary fight. He was also joined Pence at an Iowa event earlier Thursday.

The public show of support comes roughly six months since Cruz called Trump a “pathological liar” and “utterly amoral” after the brash New York businessman had insulted his wife and questioned whether his father was involved in the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Trump fans booed Cruz at the Republican National Convention in July when he encouraged attendees to “vote your conscience.” He finally endorsed Trump in late September, saying he had searched his “own conscience” and decided to vote for his formal rival.

The Cruz campaign stop “just shows that Republicans are coming together,” said Scott Hagerstrom, state director for the Trump campaign. “They realize what’s at stake for our future, for our country, and for the Supreme Court.”

Both Cruz and Pence highlighted the potential for the next president to endorse multiple Supreme Court justices, arguing the election is about more than just the names at the top of the ticket.

“You better think long and hard about that,” Pence told an estimated crowd of more than 1,000. “Elect Hillary Clinton and you better get used to more unelected judges using unaccountable power to take unconstitutional actions.”

Cruz hammered Clinton over her use of a private email server as secretary of state and Friday’s revelation that the FBI is reviewing new emails it believes may be pertinent to its probe.

A hacked email published this week by WikiLeaks suggests a senior official in the U.S. Department of Justice gave the Clinton campaign a “heads-up” on potential developments at a congressional hearing.

“It is fundamentally corrupt when a prosecutor notifies the target of an investigation what they they’re doing,” said Cruz, who previously worked in the Justice Department. “That official needs to be fired. (Attorney General) Loretta Lynch should resign, and a special prosecutor should be appointed to investigate and prosecute Hillary Clinton.”

Cruz and Pence are “the perfect” Republican combination to appeal to social conservatives in west and southwest Michigan who “seem to be pretty skeptical about Trump and his personal comportment,” longtime state pundit Bill Ballenger said.

Both politicians are popular with the Christian right, Ballenger said, and Trump “couldn’t ask for anything better” as he seeks to win over like-minded voters.

“The idea that in the final days of the campaign (Cruz) emerges as a surrogate for Trump and a champion of Trump is quite a big deal,” he said. “I think it’s at least as strong for Republicans as Bernie Sanders agreeing to speak for Hillary, but he’s been doing that for months.”

Sanders, the U.S. senator from Vermont who scored a surprise victory over Clinton in Michigan’s Democratic primary, stumped for the former secretary of state Wednesday in Kalamazoo and Traverse City.

Trump rolled to a comfortable win in Michigan’s GOP primary but struggled in Kalamazoo County, where he finished third to Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Cruz. Kasich has not endorsed Trump and did not vote for him this week when he cast his early ballot.

“He lost here. This is not Trump country,” said state Rep. John Hoadley, D-Kalamazoo, who suggested the Republican nominee has turned off local voters with “divisive and dangerous” rhetoric.

“There’s a reason that Trump isn’t coming,” he said. “They’re trying to find anyone else to distract voters in the Kalamazoo area from the fact that Trump is unqualified to lead and has shown he is unfit to president and commander in chief.”

Hoadley, one of two openly gay members of the Michigan Legislature, also called both Pence and Cruz “anti-LGBT politicians,” noting that Pence signed a controversial religious freedom restoration law as governor of Indiana.

A small group of protesters lined the sidewalk outside the campaign event, including one woman who dressed up as a rat and held a sign suggesting that Trump was going to make “white male supremacy great again,” a riff on his Make America Great Again slogan.

Jayne Isaacs, a homemaker from Scotts, drove by the protesters and decided to return with her daughter and grandson, who live in the neighborhood.

“I don’t like my children and grandchildren seeing how he talked,” Isaacs said of Trump. “The (lack of) civility is just asinine.”

She and her daughter both plan to vote for Clinton.

“I’m afraid for my kids,” said Laura Isaacs. “Trump doesn’t believe in climate problems. What are they going to do?”

The Clinton campaign has begun airing ads in Michigan and other states highlighting controversial comments Trump has made about women and minority groups, including 2005 footage of him suggesting he could get away with kissing and groping women because of his celebrity.

The recently surfaced video clip did not bother Karen Brown of Portage, a Trump supporter who said she thinks the Republican nominee is “for women” and has treated them well in his business.

“I worked in a business where it was all men, and they do talk like that in the locker room,” she said. “I’m not scarred for life.”

Helen Bergman, who has a seasonal home in South Haven but votes in Illinois, said she appreciates Trump’s fresh perspective as a non-politician business man.

“Donald Trump has signed the front of checks. Hillary Clinton has signed the back of checks,” she said. “We’ve been supporting Hillary and Bill all their lives, and Donald Trump provided jobs and lives for people.”

Bergman said she agrees with Trump’s criticism of various international trade agreements and China’s admission into the World Trade Organization, which he has blamed for the loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S.

“It’s true,” she said, explaining that her husband used to own an Illinois plastics company that manufactured toys. “It was cheaper to make the toys in China, so he finally had to close it. Wal-Mart and all of them were buying from China.”

joosting@detroitnews.com

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