Calling the weekend firebombing at Orange County’s GOP headquarters an act “of nothing less than political terrorism,” Indiana Gov. Mike Pence spoke passionately about Republican Party leaders who he said stood up to those who sought to silence them.
“We saw firsthand not only the aftermath of the fire that could have claimed lives, but we saw the determination of volunteers who would not be intimidated and will not be deterred from their quest to move North Carolina forward and to make America great again,” Pence told about 500 people at a Tuesday rally in Wilmington
About an hour before his appearance at the Coastline Conference and Event Center, the Republican vice-presidential nominee visited Hillsborough to see in person the damage from the attack.
“At the Orange County, NC GOP headquarters to stand solemnly with these courageous volunteers in the wake of an act of political terrorism,” Pence tweeted during his appearance.
Pence, the first member of a presidential ticket to visit Eastern North Carolina since the region was hit hard by Hurricane Matthew, told the audience that North Carolina is going through a challenging time and must remain strong.
“I just want you to know that the families of the 26 who lost their lives in the immediate aftermath of the flooding of Hurricane Matthew are in the prayers and hearts of the nation,” he said.
Pence praised Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and first responders for how they have handled flooding.
He consistently returned to the issue of party unity, stressing the need for Republican voters to support his running mate Donald Trump and prevent Democrat Hillary Clinton from appointing liberal Supreme Court justices.
“The next president will probably set the course and direction of the Supreme Court for the next 40 years,” he said.
Phil Van Hoy, 68, is a lawyer from Charlotte who initially hoped Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker would secure the nomination. Though Hoy has reservations about Trump, he sees him as the only way to keep Clinton out of the White House and appoint appropriate Supreme Court justices.
“It’s more that we’re anti-Hillary than pro-Trump,” Van Hoy said. “It’s the lesser of two evils … I figure I’ll take the devil I don’t know (over) the one I do.”
Other supporters were more enthusiastic about backing Trump.
Andy Stafford, 60, a Sarasota, Florida, resident who heavily follows the campaign, was showing off his flag twirling skills hours before the rally
“I love his ethics,” Stafford said, defending Trump from recent attacks surrounding his lewd comments about women in a leaked 2005 video. “I love the wall. I love Crooked Hillary in jail. I want a better America. I want jobs.”
Pence criticized Clinton and President Barack Obama. “Despite all of the happy talk you get from the other side, we’re in the midst of the weakest economic recovery since the Great Depression,” Pence said.
He said Trump would strengthen the economy by cutting burdensome taxes on businesses and eliminating the estate tax.
Pence said Clinton shouldn’t be commander-in-chief because of her handling of the attack on Benghazi.
Retired Col. Earl Atkinson said in a news release Clinton would be better qualified to serve as commander-in-chief.
“As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton always put our national security first, from paving the way to an end to Iran's nuclear program to standing up to Putin’s aggression,” Atkinson said.
In the past week, Trump has claimed the election is rigged. Though Pence did not comment in great detail on that claim, he did encourage supporters to be observant at precincts and monitor any instances of voter fraud.
“I want you to become involved in this election,” Pence said. “States manage and operate Election Day. We have procedures and policies in place where you can respectfully participate in preserving accountability on Election Day. I encourage you to do it.
“I would say to each and every one of you if you’re here at a rally and you’ve not yet volunteered to participate in the electoral process by respectfully ensuring the integrity of the vote come Election Day, then you haven’t done yet all you can do, so go be involved. Because to protect the integrity of the vote is to protect the right of every American.”