Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence compared running mate Donald Trump to Ronald Reagan Thursday in his first solo campaign appearance in North Carolina.
Pence, the governor of Indiana, gave a speech and answered questions from an audience of about 300 people at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. He spent much of the speech praising Trump and criticizing opponent Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama.
“Not since Ronald Reagan in my lifetime has there been a man or woman at the national level who has heard the frustrations and the aspirations of the American people the way (Trump) does,” Pence said. “He’s distinctly American. He makes some of those people in Europe just crazy.”
Pence addressed his running mate’s differing approach when he answered a question from 11-year-old Matthew Schricker of Raleigh, who wondered if “softening up Mr. Trump’s words” would be his role in a Trump administration.
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“Sometimes things don’t always come out like you mean,” Pence said. “We have different styles, you might have noticed that. Differences in style should never be confused with differences in conviction.”
Matthew later said he was satisfied with the response. “My concern was that he wasn’t going full on with Trump’s strong views and I was a little worried that he was softening up,” he said. “A vocal person like Mr. Trump needs somebody to balance him out or else everything’s going to get out of control.”
Pence rebutted Obama’s recent criticism of Trump, noting that the president had said the billionaire was “woefully unprepared to do this job.”
As Pence quoted the president’s critique, someone in the crowd shouted, “Was he looking in the mirror?”
“This administration through its policies has weakened America’s place in the world,” Pence said of Obama. “We’re still reeling this morning from the news that on the very week four American hostages were released, $400 million worth of cash was delivered to Iran. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama essentially put a price tag on the head of every American traveling abroad.”
During the question-and-answer session, the first audience member called on was N.C. Republican Party executive director Dallas Woodhouse. Woodhouse wanted to hear Pence’s thoughts on North Carolina’s voter ID law after a federal appeals court panel struck it down.
“The integrity of the vote is the foundation of the integrity of the democracy,” Pence said, noting that the Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s voter ID law. “I think we helped lead the nation in voter ID, and it has not been a barrier to access to the ballot place.”
Pence also faced a question from Halifax County veteran Jean Reaves, who said she’s opposed to privatizing Veterans Administration health care services. “We need strong leadership in the VA just like we need it everywhere else,” she said. “We need the Congress to support changing some of the personnel rules so we can get rid of deadbeats that aren’t doing their job.”
Pence said he supports Trump’s 10-point plan for improving the VA, which includes allowing veterans to visit any facility that accepts Medicare.
“We are going to make it possible for the veteran to go across the street and get that health care in a timely way,” Pence said.
Pence praised his counterpart in North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory. “North Carolina and Indiana are out there with the fastest growing economies in America,” he said. “Your good governor, Pat McCrory, needs to be re-elected.”
Pence appeared with Trump in Winston-Salem last week. His appearance follows a rally Wednesday that featured Clinton’s running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine. And former President Bill Clinton is expected to campaign in the state on Friday.
N.C. Republicans urge support for Trump
Several leading Republican politicians spoke in favor of Donald Trump Thursday morning before vice presidential candidate Mike Pence took the stage.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, state Sen. Buck Newton and U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis served as warm-up speakers for Pence. Tillis responded to a member of the audience who shouted “lock her up” when he mentioned Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
“I don’t know if we can lock her up, but we can lock her out of the White House in November,” Tillis said. “We need to make America great again, and it starts right now.”
Forest said Pence is “truly a man of character and a man of principle.” And while Forest didn’t say much about his re-election bid, Newton used the moment in the spotlight to tout his campaign for attorney general. He criticized his Democratic opponent, former state Sen. Josh Stein.
“He’s going to do everything he can to fight as an activist of the left-wing agenda – Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, you name it,” Newton said. “He’s (former U.S. attorney general) Eric Holder with a (former U.S. Sen.) John Edwards accent.”
Stein’s campaign manager, Seth Dearmin, rejected the criticism from Newton as name-calling. “Josh Stein is far and away the most qualified candidate to serve as our next Attorney General,” Dearmin said in a statement Thursday.
Gov. Pat McCrory and U.S. Sen. Richard Burr did not attend the Pence event, although they campaigned with Trump last week.