Pence: Trump and I will visit Michigan 'again and again and again'

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Holland — Michigan's place in the 2020 election was front and center Wednesday night as Vice President Mike Pence told a crowd in Holland that he and President Donald Trump will be in the state "again and again and again."

Pence made a series of stops in Western Michigan during the day, culminating with a rally in downtown Holland that included former Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. The event drew a capacity crowd of about 250 people. Outside an overflow crowd of about 100 supporters and additional protesters gathered for the event.

Vice President Mike Pence, center right, hugs a supporter at an American Legion hall in Grand Rapids on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019.

"I promise you that President Trump and I are going to be in Michigan again and again and again," Pence told the crowd.

The Republican president won Michigan by 10,704 votes over Democrat Hillary Clinton, Trump's narrowest margin of victory in the 2016 electoral upset. The state remains a battleground where many Democratic presidential hopefuls have visited and the party expects to challenge the president.

Pence took the stage at about 5 p.m., using much of his speech to tout Trump's accomplishments on national security and the economy. He also criticized House Democrats' ongoing impeachment inquiry hearings that are examining allegations Trump withheld aid from Ukraine to spur an investigation involving Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son.

Pence called the hearings a "disgrace."

"This sham impeachment should end, and Congress should get back to work," he said.

After the event, Pence and Republican U.S. Senate candidate John James, an Iraq War veteran, made a surprise stop at American Legion Post 459 in Grand Rapids. Pence and James talked with people attending the post's Christmas dinner.

At one point, Pence posed for a photo with a group while James, with a smile, removed a pitcher of beer from the shot.

"It means a lot to us here," said Dan Parsaca, judge advocate for the Sons of the American Legion. "We are very family-oriented here. And it makes a big difference knowing that he wanted to come here to see us."

Vice President Mike Pence greets supporters at a rally in Holland, Michigan, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019.

During his speech in Holland, Pence focused on Michigan, noting new absentee voting policies that will be in place for the 2020 election. Michigan voters expanded absentee voting through a statewide ballot proposal in 2018. Among other things, the proposal allows for no-reason absentee voting.

Pence told the crowd to vote early in the fall and "get to work."

"Friends don’t let friends vote alone," he added

Michigan Democratic Party Chairwoman Lavora Barnes blasted Trump and Pence in a press release about his visit, connecting the stop to gubernatorial losses Republicans have suffered this year 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."

Before 2016, no Republican presidential candidate had won Michigan since 1988.

Trump's 2020 campaign is focusing on Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, aiming to hold the three states that Democrats previously counted as locks for electoral votes.

There are early signs the Trump-Pence campaign faces a difficult task, including Michigan's election in the 2018 midterm election of a Democratic governor, attorney general and secretary of state as well as the flipping of two Republican U.S. House seats.

Catherine Ristola Bass of Holland holds a sign outside a rally featuring Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019.

The vice president earlier Wednesday visited with faith leaders in Portage.

The trip marked Pence's 11th visit to Michigan since he took office. He traveled frequently to the state in the waning weeks of the 2016 election, making four appearances in the last five days of the campaign in West Michigan,

Wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat, Randy Fleming of Fennville was in the Holland crowd for Pence's speech. Asked if he thought Trump could win Michigan again after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's victory in 2018, he responded quickly, "Absolutely. Even more so because of Gretchen Whitmer."

Outside the venue, opponents of Pence and Trump weren't so sure.

Two clusters of protesters gathered, chanting and holding signs with messages like "Hoosier Vladdy?" That message referenced Pence's native state of Indiana, where he was a U.S. House member and governor, and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Among the demonstrators was Catherine Ristola Bass of Holland. She held a sign that said, "Let justice roll down like waters in a mighty stream."

"He is dishonorable," Ristola Bass said of Pence.