Pence’s visit brought fierce criticism from Georgia Democrats, who cast it as another in a string of developments that have put Republicans on the defensive in a state they’ve won in every White House race since 1996.
“I hope that Mike Pence talks to the faith community and explains to them in detail that he and Donald Trump are using them as a tool to win votes,” state Rep. Erick Allen said before tying Pence to Tuesday’s chaotic presidential debate.
“This is not acceptable," Allen said, "and what we saw last night was an unhinged, unprepared president that culminated the four years he’s been in office in one moment of sheer terror.”
Not surprisingly, Pence had a different view of Trump’s performance during the first of three showdowns with Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
“He won that presidential debate hands down,” Pence said. “Now we’re just 34 days — 34 days — until another victory.”
A pivotal time
The vice president’s visit came on the heels of Trump’s campaign stop in Atlanta on Friday to woo Black voters — Pence spoke in the same Cobb Galleria Centre room where the president held court — and amid a string of polls that show the state has become increasingly competitive.
An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released last week showed Trump and Biden knotted at 47% in a state Democrats last carried in a presidential race when Bill Clinton won his first term in 1992. Three surveys published since then echo those tight dynamics.
Trump’s campaign has responded by sending a string of top surrogates to Georgia. Over the past three weeks, three of Trump’s children and several Cabinet officials have stumped in the state.
And Pence has become a frequent visitor, including two separate trips within the span of a week in May. The visit Wednesday featured a stop at a closed-door Georgia Republican fundraiser at the St. Regis Hotel in Buckhead before his keynote address at the conservative conference.
With Pence’s appearance, Trump’s campaign is hoping to shore up support from a group crucial to his reelection. After religious voters helped Trump narrowly defeat Hillary Clinton in 2016, there are signs that support has dipped this election.
An August survey by Fox News showed Biden hovering at 28% support among white evangelicals — that’s an improvement of 12 percentage points over Clinton’s performance in 2016 exit polls.
Trump’s campaign is trying to rev up social conservatives with the appointment of Barrett, a favorite of anti-abortion advocate groups, to the vacancy left by the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Among the hundreds at the conference was Johsie Cruz, a long-shot Republican congressional candidate who predicted that religious conservatives galvanized by the high court’s opening would “unite against the crazy socialist agenda.”
“Look, we’re in a pivotal time, and what we’re fighting for is the American way of life,” she said.
Pence delivered a similar message to the crowd, which greeted him with chants of “four more years.” He downplayed polls that showed Trump trailing in key battleground states and across the nation, challenging those in the audience to “have faith in the American people.”
“If 2016 taught us anything," Pence said, "it’s that whatever the pundits and the Washington elites and the big media want to say, the American people are in charge of America.”