Republican vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence offered staunch support of his running mate and a sharp critique of Hillary Clinton during a campaign stop in Raleigh on Wednesday.
He described Donald Trump, who is under scrutiny after a tape was released of the GOP presidential nominee making lewd comments, as a man “who never quits, who never backs down.”
“He embodies the spirit of this country — strong, freedom-loving, independent, optimistic and willing to fight every day for what the American people believe in,” Pence said.
Pence spent the majority of his time attacking Clinton — stating that “weakness arouses evil” and that the world is a “more dangerous place” after her tenure as secretary of state.
He described the campaign as being about “big issues” and said Americans should support the Trump-Pence ticket “for the sake of the rule of law, for the sake of our Constitution and limited government, for the sake of the sanctity of life and for the sake of our Second Amendment to the Constitution.”
Pence said Monday that he’s forgiven Trump for his comments about women revealed last week because “we’re called to forgive as we’ve been forgiven.”
In the 2005 video, Trump boasted about kissing women without consent and attempting to have sex with a married woman, and said celebrities could get away with grabbing women.
While Pence spoke in the Hilton North Raleigh Midtown Hotel, The New York Times reported that two women have come forward who say they were touched inappropriately by Trump, who repeatedly stated that his comments were “just words.”
Trump denied the claims to a New York Times reporter, and campaign staff at the Pence event declined to comment on the allegations.
One supporter, Rusty Black, 18, said he viewed the release of Trump’s comments as “a distraction from the real issues.”
Black, a senior in high school from Rolesville, said he supports the Trump-Pence ticket because he thinks the pair will be best for the economy, strong on immigration and bring back “honesty and integrity” to the government.
“I’ve been involved in sports at my school, and when Trump said it was locker room talk, he was right,” Black said. “When you go inside a locker room with a lot of young men, that’s all you hear. You get that talk everywhere you go.”
Wendy Laine, of Raleigh, also downplayed the importance of Trump’s comments — stating that she doesn’t know “any man who has not said something dumb along these lines.”
“I’m sure if they thought it was going to be on front page news, they would curb what they said,” said Laine, an accountant. “But when you compare that to her corruption scandals after scandals after scandals — it’s still coming.”
“Actions versus words — that’s all I’ll say,” her husband, Grant Laine, a waiter, added.
Earlier Wednesday, retired NBA player Jason Collins denounced Pence’s stance on LGBT issues.
Collins, the first openly gay player in the NBA, participated in a panel discussion with legislators and activists in Raleigh. There, he called out Pence, the governor of Indiana, for supporting a controversial religious freedom bill that his opponents argued would have allowed businesses to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers. Facing an outcry, he went on to sign a revised version of the law saying it can’t be used to discriminate.
“Look at his record,” Collins said. “He enacted a religious freedom law that was a way to legalize discrimination in his state. He has tried to force young men and women in his state to go through conversion therapy, which is torture. It’s shocking that in 2016 that is still taking place.”
Collins added that when people suggest that Pence could help Trump fine-tune his policies, it reminds him of what people said about the relationship between former Vice President Dick Cheney and former President George W. Bush.
“We saw where the country was left with that formula,” he said. “Trump’s plans and the people he surrounds himself with, like Pence, it’s like we don’t learn from history.”
Collins, who played in the NBA for 13 years, campaigned on Clinton’s behalf. He said that the Democratic nominee represents “all the things that Trump is not.”
“She is a unifier,” he said. “She wants to celebrate our diversity and champion equality and acceptance for all and level the playing field for the many Americans who are facing uphill challenges in their daily lives.”
He stated that on the other hand, Pence, Trump and North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed the controversial LGBT law House Bill 2, are all “riding in the same boat of discrimination.”
“It’s a boat of discriminatory laws that tarnish the reputation of the great state of North Carolina and its people,” Collins said.
HB2 prohibits cities from adopting anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people and mandates that people in government buildings use the bathroom corresponding with the gender on their birth certificate.
McCrory and Republican lawmakers say HB2 was necessary to block a Charlotte ordinance that would have let transgender people use bathrooms matching the gender with which they identify, which lawmakers say would have jeopardized safety and privacy.
Collins pointed to the economic impact of HB2, which led the NBA, NCAA and ACC to pull sports events out of the state.
He said although the NBA’s decision to move its All-Star Game out of Charlotte was “difficult,” it was also clearly “the right decision to make.” He added that it “set a precedent for other sports institutions” — including the NCAA and the ACC.
Timothy Duncan, of Sanford, came to the rally with his wife, mother-in-law and 9-year-old son to support Pence, who he said will protect the Second Amendment and bring “religious freedom back” — which he said he feels Democrats are trying to “pull away.”
“I feel like at a Democrat rally they’re not going to mention God a whole lot,” Duncan, 39, said. “It feels like every speech so far that I’ve heard mentions God, and it’s just nice to hear that.”
Duncan, who is a trivia host, said it is “a shame” that businesses have pulled out of North Carolina because of HB2.
“But as they say, ‘If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything,’ ” he said, instead blaming Democratic politicians including Attorney General Roy Cooper, who is challenging McCrory, for the fallout.
At the rally, U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, a Greensboro Republican, praised Pence for his character.
“If you can survive in the United States Congress and go back home with a reputation as a man of character and integrity, as Mike Pence has done, you’ve done something special,” Walker said. “Mike Pence is special.”
He added a warning to the audience, telling attendees not to let “the press and entertainers dictate who you vote for.”
Pence encouraged North Carolinians to get out to vote, and to encourage their friends and family to do the same. Regular voter registration in the state ends Friday, although same-day registration is available during early voting.
“Just tell them we have a choice to make,” Pence said. “It’s in the hands of the American people, and that’s why I have such confidence.”