ZANESVILLE, Ohio — Vice President Mike Pence told supporters during a Wednesday campaign stop in rural Ohio that President Donald Trump had kept his promises to boost the economy, fight terrorism — and yes, took credit for the Big Ten’s announcement from earlier in the day that the conference that includes Ohio State University would resume playing next month.
“This president fought for jobs here, and he fought for college football,” Pence said at the Muskingum County Fairgrounds in Zanesville.
The record is clear that Trump called Big 10 Commissioner Kevin Warren and publicly pressured the conference to resume playing and offered federal support. But how, exactly, Trump helped isn’t clear.
Pence was quick to bring up college football, but spoke for more than 20 minutes before bringing up the coronavirus pandemic, which has crippled the economy and darkened Trump’s re-election’s chances.
He argued the case that Trump responded to the coronavirus pandemic effectively, touting Trump’s closing of air travel with China in February, even though Trump around that time was downplaying the risks of the pandemic to the public.
Pence also promised a safe vaccine before the end of the year. Trump said at the White House on Wednesday it could happen in October.
“We’re in the miracle business,” Pence said.
A few hundred people gathered outdoors to see Pence at the event, touted as a “Workers for Trump” event. Pence stood on a platform flanked by workers in hard hats and heavy construction equipment, including a roughly 150-foot tall crane hoisting a massive American flag. Before standing for Pence’s speech, the crowd sat in loosely arranged folding chairs.
Most audience members were not wearing masks, although many event staff were. Gov. Mike DeWine’s restrictions on public gatherings include exemptions for political events.
Before Wednesday’s event, Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign issued a statement accusing Trump of “betraying” American workers and families, including misleading them about the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic and grossly exaggerating gains in the auto industry.
“Ohioans know that Trump and Pence have failed them — and that they still have no plan to get us through a pandemic that has sickened more than 135,000 Ohioans, killed over 4,000, and left far too many without a job,” said Kate Bedingfield, a Biden campaign spokeswoman.
“Ohioans don’t need Mike Pence parachuting into Zanesville,” said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper. “We need a president who’s prepared to lead us out of this crisis and build us back better. That leader is Joe Biden, and this November, Ohioans are sending him to the White House.”
Mixing in religious and other socially conservative themes, Pence during his 45-minute speech tried to paint Biden, who has a reputation as a moderate Democrat, as a “Trojan horse for the radical left.”
Pence also brought up the ambush shooting of two sheriff’s deputies in Los Angeles from last weekend. The crowd fell into a hush while he spoke. Pence said the Trump administration would not defund police, and accused Biden of planning to do that.
“We in Ohio don’t have to choose between supporting law enforcement and supporting our African-American neighbors,” he said.
Biden has said he would not cut law-enforcement funding, and his official campaign plan calls for increasing federal funding for community-based policing programs.
Pence also said DeWine, a Republican, has done a “great job” in leading the state and invited the crowd to applaud. This drew a mix of muted applause and mostly boos, not much different from the boos the crowd gave when Pence mentioned Biden.
Pence got a stronger reaction from the crowd, for instance, when he touted Trump’s anti-abortion record.
Pence also praised Trump’s intervention in trying to re-open the Lordstown General Motors assembly plant in Trumbull County as a battery plant for electric vehicles. Company officials plan to employ 1,100 people in a few years, Pence said, at the plant that used to employ 4,500 people.
Wednesday’s trip was Pence’s first to Ohio since June, when he visited the former Lordstown plant to tout GM’s new initiative to build an all-electric truck. This year’s presidential candidates and their running mates haven’t spent significant time in Ohio since the primary earlier this year. Instead, they’ve focused their attention on higher-tier swing states including neighboring Michigan and Pennsylvania.
But the Republican ticket suddenly is paying closer attention to Ohio. Not long before Pence began speaking, the Trump campaign announced the president will hold an airport rally on Monday in Toledo. Polls show a close race here, generally leaning in favor of Trump. Trump won Ohio by a surprisingly large 8 points in 2016.
Among those who attended Wednesday were fiancés Wesley Wolfe, 38, and Tiffany Coakley, 26. Both live in town, and both said they are Republican voters who came so they could show support for the president.
Both also felt the risks of the coronavirus pandemic were exaggerated, which they said most others they know also believe. Both work in fields that were closed by DeWine’s closure orders — Wolfe is a tattoo artist and Coakley is a server.
“He’s doing the best he can even though he’s been getting flak for it,” Wolfe said of Trump’s response to the pandemic. “He can only do so much.”
“He’s brought back those jobs, he’s brought the black community out of poverty. He can’t be bought like the other politicians,” Coakley said.
Ohio Republican Party Chairman Jane Timken and Bob Paduchik, a top Trump political adviser in Ohio, greeted Pence at the Zanesville Municipal Airport. Timken wore a mask with white lettering that read “TRUMP.” Pence bumped elbows with Timken and bumped forearms with Paduchik as they chatted.
Timken and Paduchik also gave brief remarks introducing Pence, as did the local mayor and county sheriff.
Many pro-Trump signs, and a banner touting the QAnon conspiracy theory, were in yards lining the street leading to the fairgrounds. There also were a handful of Biden signs, and a small group of protesters outside the event.
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