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Lansing — Former Vice President Joe Biden stumped for Michigan Democrats on Thursday evening in Lansing, urging voters to influence the tone and tenor of politics by electing candidates with “character.”

“Our very democracy is under stress, and it’s time for us to stand up for American ideals,” Biden told a crowd of more than 2,000 in the Lansing Community College gymnasium and overflow room. “Ideals like integrity, decency, treating everyone with respect, giving no safe harbor to hate.”

The Delaware Democrat, battling laryngitis, spoke in a quiet but serious tone as he touted gubernatorial hopeful Gretchen Whitmer and incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who is up for re-election. But he saved his biggest compliments for U.S. House candidate Elissa Slotkin, a former CIA officer and defense official who is challenging Republican Rep. Mike Bishop in the 8th Congressional District.

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Her superiors “had enormous respect for her and gave her enormous responsibilities,” Biden said, noting that Slotkin did three tours in Iraq and worked under both Republican President George Bush and Democrat Barack Obama’s administration.

“She’s a patriot through and through,” he said. “It sounds corny. She’s a patriot. She has literally repeatedly put her life on the line for the country.”

Biden spoke one week after he and other prominent Democrats were mailed pipe bombs by a political critic and days after a fatal shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue. He rarely mentioned President Donald Trump by name but repeatedly bemoaned divisive rhetoric out of Washington, D.C.

“The tone has to change,” said Biden, a potential 2020 presidential candidate. “Our political opponents aren’t enemies. The press is not the enemy of the people. Before you’re a Democrat or a Republican or an independent, you’re an American.”

Voters should choose hope over fear, allies over enemies and truth over lies, he said.

"Together, we can do anything, and together we can take it all back. So get the hell up. Go out and vote."

Biden's mid-Michigan visit was designed to boost Slotkin, whose race with Bishop is considered a toss-up that could affect Democrat’s ability to flip control of the U.S. House. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway had been scheduled to rally with Republicans in Sterling Heights but was unable to attend due what the Michigan GOP called an “aircraft malfunction.”

The Republican-leaning 8th District includes Livingston County and parts of Ingham and Oakland County. The Ingham portion, which includes Lansing and East Lansing, is a liberal region where Democrats are hoping for a big turnout on Tuesday.

Slotkin told the crowd that her life “totally changed” on Sept. 11, 2001. The terrorist attack occurred on her second day of graduate school in New York, and she said she realized then that “national security was what I was going to do as a career.”

The Holly Democrat stressed the need to put “country over party”  after accidentally flipping those nouns in a recent flub that Republicans quickly turned into an attack ad.

Slotkin had a “few words” for Bishop: “I’ve targeted Al-Qaeda in Iraq. I’ve taken fire from Iranian rockets. You and your attack ads don’t scare me."

Whitmer and Stabenow rallied the crowd in warm-up speeches, touching on their own races but also touting other Democrats up and down the ticket as they urged voter turnout.

“All the pride marches, the women’s marches, the health care rallies, the immigration protests, none of it matters if we don’t turn it out on Tuesday,” Whitmer said.

“Who we are is on the ballot, and it’s time to take our country back,” Stabenow added.

A handful of Republican activists protested outside the venue, where the Michigan chapter of Americans for Prosperity parked it’s moving truck wrapped in graphs suggesting Whitmer specializes “in policies that move jobs out of Michigan.”

Bishop campaign volunteers bought pallets of fake cash to the event in an attempt to bash Slotkin for supporting the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear deal that included the release of up to $150 billion in Iranian assets that had been frozen under economic sanctions.

“Elissa Slotkin supported giving $150 billion to the world’s leading sponsor of terror, Iran,” said Bishop consultant Stu Sandler. “Both Elissa Slotkin and Joe Biden were misguided in their attempts to buy off the very terrorist forces that supported ISIS.”

Slotkin called the visual protest outside the rally a “gimmick” and a “sad statement of what’s happened in politics.”

“None of it helps anyone,” she said. “None of it actually talks about what we’re going to do to help people, which is what the business is supposed to be about.”

A mix of young and old residents gathered in the community college gymnasium for the rally. Roughly 2,000 made it inside for the event, while another 100 or so watched on televisions in an overflow room.

Beth Bogue, a 81-year-old retiree who lives on a farm near Williamston, said she’s “committed to getting more Democrats in Congress” and has volunteered to call voters for Slotkin’s campaign.

“She can work with both parties,” Bogue said. “I just think she’s really sharp, and I don’t like Mike Bishop. He seems to be a Trump crony, and I’m very opposed to Trump and his policies.”

Lasasha Sharpe, a 19-year-old student from Owosso who wants to go into 2D animation and Japanese translation, said she did not know many of the candidates but came to the rally to get informed before voting in her first election.

“I feel nervous, and I know it’s a big impact not only for my future, for everyone’s future around me,” she said. “I just want to do the right thing.”

Sharpe was too young to vote when Biden served but said she was excited to hear the former vice president, noting how he stopped to talk with a homeless man outside a movie theater in March.

“I look up to people who can do great things and do nice things in turn,” she said.

Nancy Schwartz of East Lansing said she’s angry with Bishop because the Rochester Republican has not held many local town hall meetings and no longer has a Lansing office here for constituent services, which Slotkin has vowed to re-open.

“For those of us who live in Ingham County, we’ve not had any representation at all since Mike Bishop has been in Congress,” said Schwartz, 68, who also has made phone calls for his challenger. “Elissa’s the contrast to that. No matter what Bishop’s ads say, she puts country over party.”

joosting@detroitnews.com

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