MESA, Ariz. (AP) - Vice President Mike Pence swung through Arizona on August 11 to shore up two key constituencies the Trump campaign needs to win in November, backing from law enforcement and religious voters.
Pence brought President Donald Trump’s tough-on-crime message to Tucson, telling a group of police officers at a campaign event that Democrats will undermine law and order if they win the November elections.
The Republican followed with a rally in Mesa, where he worked to secure backing from another crucial Arizona voting bloc at the launch of a group of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints members who support Trump.
In Tucson, Pence told several hundred socially distanced members of the Arizona Police Association that he and President Donald Trump will never heed calls to reduce funding for police that have emerged in the wake of the May killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
“We’re not going to defund the police, not now, not ever,” Pence told the cheering crowd. “We’re going to back the blue – we’re going to back the blue with more resources, more support.”
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has rejected calls to defund police but supported redirecting some money into alternatives such as mental health and prison reform.
But Pence said he and other Democrats have made it clear they don’t support law enforcement.
“Joe Biden and the radical left say that we have to choose between supporting our police or supporting all the families of our communities,” Pence said. “The American people know we don’t have to choose between supporting law enforcement and supporting our African American neighbors. We have done both. We can do both.”
The Tucson visit was a campaign rally in every sense, complete with a lone heckler who managed to slip into the event despite the crowd being mainly law enforcement officers. The man stood and yelled an expletive and “Black Lives Matter” before being hustled out of the room. Pence ignored him.
Pence’s speech, where he accepted the police association’s endorsement, was preceded by remarks from GOP Sen. Martha McSally, who faces a touch election fight against Democrat Mark Kelly, and Gov. Doug Ducey, who joins Pence at every opportunity.
McSally and Ducey also led the vice president at the Mesa event, where he launched the campaign’s outreach efforts to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Pence, a devout Christian, has often served as the Trump campaign’s envoy to religious voters.
Pence continued his attacks on Biden in Mesa, ticking off a list of differences and repeating his refrain that Biden is beholden to the “radical left.”
“On issues most important to people of faith across this country, Joe Biden and the radical left are deeply out of step with the American people,” Pence said. “And I’m proud to tell you this. This president has stood for the religious freedom of every American of every faith every day of this administration.
He worked to highlight the differences between the Trump administration and a possible Biden presidency, saying a Biden victory will bring changes many in the religious right fear.
“I think this coming election, the choice is not going to be whether America will be more conservative or more liberal, whether America will be more Democrat or more Republican, red or blue,” Pence said. “The choice in this election is whether America remains America.”
Pence also made his first remarks about Sen. Kamala Harris, who Biden announced Tuesday was his pick for vice president.
“Let me take this opportunity to welcome her to the race,” Pence said. “We all know, look, Joe Biden and the Democrats have been overtaken by the radical left, so given their promises of higher taxes, open borders, socialized medicine and abortion on demand, it’s no surprise that he chose Sen. Harris to be his running mate.”
He noted that the vice presidential debate is set for Oct. 7 in Salt Lake City, where the LDS church has its headquarters.
“So my message to the Democratic candidate for vice president: Congratulations – I’ll see you in Salt Lake City,” Pence said.
The crowds in both venues wore masks because of the coronavirus, although two people were escorted from the Mesa event because they refused to comply.
In late June, Pence canceled events in Tucson and Yuma as Arizona saw a big spike in coronavirus cases in one of the world’s worst outbreaks at the time. Instead, he flew to Phoenix to meet with health officials.
Both the Trump campaign and that of Democrat Joe Biden are heavily focused on Arizona, which is trending toward the center after decades of GOP dominance. Trump won the state by 3.5 percentage points in 2016, and Democrats won several key races two years later with the support of voters disaffected with Trump, particularly women in the Phoenix suburbs.
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