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Mackinac Island — Touting the president’s record on military spending, the economy and pro-life issues, Vice President Mike Pence urged Michigan Republicans to support President Donald Trump in the months ahead of the 2020 election.

“The truth is the American economy is booming because of the leadership Michigan Republicans supported from the White House to Capitol Hill,” Pence said from a Grand Hotel stage Saturday.

The vice president bucked tradition when he arrived on Mackinac Island for the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference, traveling from a helicopter at the Mackinac Island airport to the Grand Hotel via motorized vehicles rather than a horse-drawn carriage.

After arriving on the island, Pence spoke to an overflow room of conference attendees ahead of his address on stage at the Grand Hotel theater. According to the Michigan Republican Party, Pence is the first sitting vice president to speak at the biennial conference, which has been hosted on the island for more than 60 years.

The former governor of Indiana, Pence said he visited the island often as he was growing up and into adulthood, noting that during one visit his wife, Karen, was seven months pregnant.

“She told me if you don’t come back with fudge don’t bother getting on the plane,” Pence said.

Pence thanked Michigan’s Republican Congressional delegation during his address as well as U.S. Senate candidate John James, who is running against incumbent Sen. Gary Peters and is on the island for the conference.

“Join me in thanking John James for his leadership, past, present and future,” Pence said. “I’m gonna be able to say I was a John James fan before he was cool.”

Claiming two and a half years of “promises made, promises kept,” Pence highlighted the president’s economic policy, his support for law enforcement and the military and his record on abortion.

The vice president attacked Democrats for their leftist positions during the presidential primary debates and defended Justice Brett Kavanaugh from recent attacks, which he called a “disgrace” and “nothing short of an attack on our independent judiciary.”

“Justice Brett Kavanaugh is a good and decent man, he is principled jurist and a credit to the highest court in the land and these attacks on Justice Kavanaugh must stop,” he said.

Republicans, including Pence, are using the weekend to develop an agenda to repeal the Affordable Care Act, cut Medicare and Social Security and create a tax structure that prizes "the rich over everyday people," Michigan Democratic Party Chairwoman Lavora Barnes said in a statement 

"So as Pence speaks at his panels and gives his lofty speeches, remember this is nothing more than a desperate PR exercise to cover for a deeply unpopular agenda and a president who has broken promise after promise to Michigan workers," Barnes said. 

After urging Republicans to promote Trump among neighbors and friends, Pence shook hands with audience members and met with several local law enforcement in an environment that was under markedly more security than usual Saturday.

Secret service agents were on site from early morning Saturday through the afternoon, processing attendees through security checkpoints outside the entrance to the hotel’s main theater and using police dogs inspected media equipment and bags.

Pence was a fixture in Michigan during President Donald Trump's successful 2016 campaign and has visited the state 10 times since taking office in 2017.

He was preceded at the Mackinac Island conference by former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos of Michigan. U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas were expected to speak later Saturday. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

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