WAUKESHA, Wis. (AP) — Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence played up his self-effacing Midwestern persona in a Wisconsin campaign appearance Wednesday, introducing himself as a “B-list Republican celebrity” while urging the crowd to vote for Donald Trump.
“For the sake of our Constitution, for the sake of the sanctity of life, for the sake of the sanctity of our Second Amendment and all our God-given liberties we must make sure the next president making appointments to the Supreme Court of the U.S. is Donald Trump,” Pence said.
Wisconsin didn’t exactly embrace Trump through the presidential primaries — one influential conservative radio host publicly belittled him as a “buffoon” and “clown.”
Now, Trump hopes that his running mate, Pence, will prove to be a secret weapon when he comes to important swing state on Wednesday.
The Indiana governor campaigned in the heart of conservative Wisconsin, a three-county region considered the epicenter of the state’s Never Trump movement, which Trump lost to rival Ted Cruz by a whopping 40 points.
The rally in Waukesha, a suburb of Milwaukee, is Pence’s first solo campaign stop since he joined the ticket nearly two weeks ago. Joining him was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a former rival and recent Trump convert, who campaigned for Cruz ahead of the April primary.
About 40 percent of the state’s Republican primary voters live in the three counties surrounding Democrat-heavy Milwaukee. Running up the votes in those suburbs is imperative for Trump if he wants to become the first Republican presidential candidate to win Wisconsin since Ronald Reagan in 1984.
Having Pence on the ticket could smooth over any lingering concerns with voters like Tom Williams, of Waukesha.
“I think one of the reasons Cruz did as well here is because there really was no other option — he was the only Trump alternative,” said Williams, 55, who voted for Cruz in the primary because Trump could be “a jerk at times.”
“Pence is a gentleman, Pence is incredibly well spoken and Pence is a true patriot,” he said. “That’s why we’re here tonight.”
Trump lost the so-called WOW counties — Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington — by three times the margin of his statewide loss. By contrast, in Wisconsin’s 2012 presidential primary Mitt Romney won the three counties by 30 points over former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
“It’s very telling that the first place they’re sending Pence is a region they should already have locked up 100-ish days out,” said Wisconsin-based Democratic strategist Joe Zepecki. “Trump’s temperament and divisive rhetoric is turning off, in particular, suburban women, making even historically Republican regions problematic for them.”
As poorly as Trump did in April, recent opinion polls show he’s headed in the right direction in southeastern Wisconsin.
Marquette University Law School polls conducted in June and July show that Trump’s approval rating among Republicans in the WOW counties is 59 percent — on par with Republicans statewide. The same polls show that just 73 percent of Wisconsin Republicans say they intend to vote for Trump — far less than the levels typical in most election years, said pollster Charles Franklin.
“Winning their votes is the critical element of the campaign, and makes Pence’s visit to Waukesha so important,” Franklin said.
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