Jacob Cooper and Eric Hernandez were hanging out at a Chick-fil-A on Thursday night when Hernandez got a text.
It was from his cousin, a flight attendant on Air Force Two, asking the Kennesaw 20-somethings if they wanted to hear the Vice President of the United States of America speak the next day.
So there they stood Friday afternoon, themselves Pence supporters, among hundreds of enlisted and commissioned military members inside a hangar at Dobbins Air Reserve Base to see the second-most-powerful man in the free world.
Vice President Mike Pence flew into the Marietta reserve base a couple of hours before his appearance at a fundraiser for Republican Karen Handel’s 6th Congressional District race.
But at the hangar, Pence didn’t delve into politics.
“His speech was fully catered to the crowd that was here,” said Cooper, a 21-year-old University of Georgia student.
Pence carefully enunciated to the soldiers: “You represent the unbreakable backbone of American freedom, and you have our deepest respect.”
After speaking, Pence went down into the crowd for handshakes and pictures. At one point, he grabbed Senior Airman Lauren Douglas’ phone and snapped a selfie.
“I never would have imagined that the vice president would take my phone in his hands and snap a photo with me and my brothers and sisters,” said the 30-year-old Lithonia native.
Lt. Col. Kyle Hosman, 46, said that photos are good fun, but the visit means much more to many at the base.
“It’s motivating for any of us to see the commander in chief or the vice commander in chief. It’s a thrill,” he said.
Hosman, who enlisted in 1988, brought his wife and two children, one a 17-year-old thinking of enlisting, to hear the vice president speak.
“To see someone you only hear of in briefings ... it’s the chance of a career,” he said.
Pence later appeared with Handel at a fundraiser at Cobb Energy Centre, telling guests at a $1,500-a-head luncheon that the Republican would help repeal the Affordable Care Act and pass one of the “largest tax cuts in American history” if she defeats Ossoff.
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The June 20 runoff is about “whether we turn back to the policies and leadership the American people just turned out,” Pence said, a reference to former President Barack Obama and other Democrats. He urged conservatives to vote and then “bow the head and bend the knee” to pray for a Handel win.
Handel told guests at the fundraiser they raised almost $250,000 from the event, putting her campaign over the $5 million mark. She’s struggled to keep pace with Ossoff, who has shattered fundraising records by collecting more than $23 million since January. The event was a private gathering, but AJC columnist Kyle Wingfield tweeted a string of developments as a pool reporter with Pence.
The vice president’s appearance at the planned fundraiser comes the same day a poll by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed Ossoff with a seven-point edge over Handel, with him leading 51 to 44 percent.
The special election has garnered national attention and more than $40 million, making it the most expensive U.S. House election in the nation’s history.
Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.
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