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Pence in West Michigan: Republicans, ‘come home’

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Holland — Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence made his third stop in Michigan in as many days on Saturday morning, continuing to urge party members to return to the fold and vote Donald Trump for president.

Pence addressed a crowd of roughly 250 outside the Park Theatre in Holland, rallying the base in the traditional Republican stronghold of west Michigan, where Trump struggled March 8 despite cruising to victory in the state’s GOP primary.

“Go tell your Republican friends that haven’t yet made up their mind and tell them it’s time to come home,” Pence said, reiterating a plea he made Thursday in Kalamazoo County.

Michigan has emerged as a late battleground in the presidential contest between Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who visited Detroit Friday afternoon and told supporters “our progress is on the line” and suggested she would change the country for the better.

Pence called the election “a choice between real change and the status quo,” saying “the other side says if you like your status quo, you can keep it. But if you want real change in this election, we have just one choice.”

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Changes under Trump would include repealing the Affordable Care Act “lock stock and barrel,” and calling a special session of Congress to quickly do so if necessary, Pence said, a prospect contingent on Republicans retaining control of the House and Senate.

Premium rates under President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, known as “Obamacare,” are set to rise 16.7 percent next year in Michigan and 25 percent nationwide. Clinton has said she wants to fix the law and save it.

“We’re going to replace it with health care reform that lowers costs without growing the size of government,” Pence said, arguing that consumers should have the right to purchase health insurance across state lines. “Let the power of the free market meet the needs of our health care economy.”

Other changes under a Trump administration would include renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, income tax cuts and “lower business taxes in America so companies here in Michigan can create jobs and compete with companies around the world,” he said.

Julie Mast of Holland, a 61-year-old accountant who lined up early to see Pence, said she likes that Trump is an outsider “who’s not influenced by the machine” in Washington, D.C.

The New York businessman has never held political office, while Clinton served as secretary of state and a U.S. senator after her husband, former President Bill Clinton, left the White House.

“We need somebody who’s rugged. We need somebody who can stand up to the other leaders in the world like Russia. He’s not dictated by the lobbyists. Even the insider Republicans hate him, and to me, I love that,” said Mast, who usually votes Republican.

Fallen leaves dotted the cement parking lot outside the Park Theatre on the crisp fall morning ahead of Pence’s visit, as local Republicans touted Trump’s presidential prospects and stressed the importance of voter turnout in Tuesday’s election.

“This soil is rich to be harvested,” state Rep. Roger Victory of Hudsonville said in Ottawa County, a reliably Republican region where then-GOP nominee Mitt Romney beat President Barack Obama by a 2-to-1 margin in 2012. “Bring that harvest in.”

Trump struggled in west Michigan despite dominating the state’s Republican primary, failing to win over some of the region’s more traditional conservatives. In Ottawa County, Trump finished third to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

The Trump campaign is “killing it” in Macomb County and outperforming GOP expectations in southeast Michigan, said former Congressman Pete Hoekstra, who called Saturday’s Pence visit a strategic effort to rally the base in Holland.

“If we deliver the turnout here in west Michigan, then we win Michigan,” said Hoekstra, a state co-chair for the Trump campaign who is from Holland. “So let’s come here, let’s make sure we bring home west Michigan. Ironically, that’s probably the last missing piece — that west Michigan comes home.”

Cruz joined Pence at a Thursday rally in the Kalamazoo area, a show of support after a bitter primary battle with Trump. But Kasich did not vote for Trump when he cast his early ballot in Ohio.

Congressman Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, hit the campaign trail this week for Trump, but fellow west Michigan Republican Reps. Justin Amash of Cascade Township and Fred Upton of St. Joseph have not endorsed the brash businessman.

“This is not an election about four years, this is about the next 40 years because of the Supreme Court,” Huizenga said Saturday, noting that the next president could be in position to nominate multiple justices. “That is one of the most vital things we can look at moving forward.”

Pence, who introduced himself as Christian first and then a Republican, remains popular with social conservatives who have been cautious about supporting Trump, who has made controversial comments about women, a disabled reporter and immigrants.

But Pence is “second to Donald Trump in how much of a danger his ideas and beliefs are to Michigan workers and families,” Michigan Democratic Chairman Brandon Dillon said in a statement.

“Whether you look at his record as governor of Indiana, where he attacked workers and passed a job-killing right-to-work law, or his time in Congress when he ‘strongly opposed’ the auto industry rescue that saved Michigan’s economy, it’s clear that Mike Pence will do whatever it takes to benefit his wealthiest and most extreme supporters at the expense of working families.”

Pence closed his Holland speech with a plea for supporters to vote, encourage their friends to vote and have faith in the American people.

“And if you’re of a mind to exercise the other kind of faith, it’d be a good time to do that too,” he said. “If you’re inclined to do as the Pences do – to bow the head and bend the knee – it’d be a good time to do it in the next three days.”