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Pence campaigns for Trump in Flint, gets key Democrat's vote

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Flint — Vice President Mike Pence welcomed a Michigan rally for the second time in less than a week on Wednesday and touted a vote for President Donald Trump by a Flint council member six days out from Tuesday's election. 

Maurice Davis, vice president of the Flint City Council, spoke ahead of Pence’s rally. The self-described lifelong Democrat announced earlier this month that he was voting for Trump on Tuesday.

Pence thanked Davis for committing his vote to Trump. “I’m partial to vice presidents,” he said.

During his 45-minute address, Pence emphasized the Trump administration's work on trade policy, the economy and the appointment of federal judges. The vice president also stumped for Republican U.S. Senate candidate John James and U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, a Midland Republican who was in Wednesday's crowd.

Pence encouraged Michigan to vote early.

“We need you to show them that Michigan is Trump country,” Pence told the crowd outside AVFlight at Flint's Bishop international Airport. “… Four years ago here in Michigan, you believed we could be strong again. You believed we could be prosperous again.”

Pence's address was often punctuated by shouts of "four more years" and "USA" from the crowd.

Those entering the gated seating area had their temperatures checked and most were wearing masks upon entry. Many took their masks off once they found their place in the crowd.

While there was seating for about 200, the crowd grew much larger than that and dozens stood once the seats were filled.

Ahead of the vice president’s arrival, a small plane carried a banner behind it reading, “That woman from MI kept us safe, not Trump!”

Shortly before Pence took the stage, Davis spoke about his vote for Trump, noting he was a lifelong Democrat and survivor of a serious case of COVID-19. 

Vice President Mike Pence speaks at AV Flight at Bishop International Airport in Flint, Mich. on Oct. 28, 2020.

“When Mr. Trump say ‘what the hell you go to lose?’ he was talking to me,” said Davis, who has advocated for limits on Flint liquor stores to decrease violence in Flint and criticized continuing fallout from the Flint water crisis. 

Davis told The Detroit News on Sunday that his decision, first reported by the "No BS News Hour with Charlie LeDuff," is prompted by frustration with the conditions in Flint and the black community. But he told The News his support didn't extend to making "a pitiful commercial about how beautiful Trump is."

"When they say go vote, they mean vote Democrat," Davis said. "All over the nation, we as Blacks are labeled Democrat.

"If the Democrats can't help, we're going to go to whoever can help.

Congressman Dan Kildee, D-Flint, rejected Davis' argument in a press conference ahead of Pence's visit. 

"The reason that places like Flint and other communities around the country continue to struggle is not because Democrats have failed to act,” he said, blaming the issue instead on Republican obstructionism in the Senate and White House.

While addressing reforms the Trump administration enacted on national defense and veterans affairs, Pence pushed to send a “West Point graduate” from Michigan to Washington, D.C. 

“We need Michigan to send John James to the U.S. Senate,” he said about the Republican challenger to U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township. 

Pence also touted the Trump administration’s economic and trade policies and improvements in the auto industry, including an announced $150 million investment in a General Motors assembly plant in Flint. He noted someone in the crowd was wearing a United Auto Workers union shirt.

“That’s all a result of cutting those taxes and rolling back red tape, and it also has a lot to do with trade,” Pence said. 

Pence criticized Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s comments on energy made during the final presidential debate.

Vice President Mike Pence speaks at AV Flight at Bishop International Airport in Flint, Mich. on Oct. 28, 2020.
(Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)

“When it comes to jobs and trade and energy, President Trump will always put Michigan and America first,” the vice president said. 

Pence noted Michigan will “play an outsized role in deciding this election, make no mistake about it.” When the crowd started chanting “Vote for Trump,” the vice president said ”I know you got my back. We just got to make sure Michigan comes through.”

Pence condemned “rioting and looting” in Philadephia Tuesday night and emphasized the importance of “law and order” in American cities, criticizing Biden’s claims of “systemic racism” and “implicit bias" among law enforcement.

“When you start to withdraw support from those who protect and serve, you only embolden those who are tearing our communities asunder,” Pence said. “…We’re not going to defund the police. Not now. Not ever.”

Pence said the Trump administration didn’t plan to let up on addressing the virus, but also advocated against shutting down the economy again.

“Before the end of this year, we believe we will have tens of millions of doses of the first coronavirus vaccine in the world,” he said.

While Flint has long been a Democratic stronghold. Genesee County moved further right in the 2016 election. 

Trump lost to Hillary Clinton in Genesee County — the state's fifth largest county — by about nine percentage points, or about 18,500 votes, in 2016. 

Republican nominee Mitt Romney lost to Obama in 2012 by about 57,1000 voters, or about 28 percentage points.

Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes in 2016, his smallest margin of victory nationally.

Pence has been criticized for continuing to campaign instead of entering a two-week quarantine after two of his close contacts tested positive for the virus last week. But Pence tested negative Wednesday morning, according to the New York Times. 

Kildee criticized the visit, calling Pence "the president's enabler in chief" and doubling down of campaign criticism. 

"Here Mike Pence is today holding another super spreader event after his own office and staff couldn’t even protect themselves from COVID-19," Kildee said. 

The Michigan Health and Human Services department through Sunday has recorded one COVID-19 case in Saginaw County — someone who attended a September Trump rally but whose infection couldn't definitively be tied to the rally.

As of 10 a.m. Tuesday, Genesee County had 5,766 cases and 308 deaths, with a positivity rate of about 6.1%. The county has had roughly 758 people hospitalized since the start of the pandemic. 

Flint residents account for 1,827, or about 32%, of the county's overall cases.

On Wednesday, the state added 3,271 COVID-19 cases and 18 more deaths for a total of 167,545 cases statewide and 7,257 deaths. 

Vice President Mike Pence speaks at AV Flight at Bishop International Airport in Flint, Mich. on Oct. 28, 2020.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com