GILFORD, N.H. — Vice President Mike Pence rallied Trump supporters at the Laconia Airport here Tuesday afternoon, arriving in the Granite State just a few days after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg heightened the stakes of an already pitched election battle. The now-vacant seat was a central rallying cry for the vice president.
“This Saturday, President Donald Trump will nominate another principled conservative,” Pence told the crowd. “After the United States Senate fulfills their duty to advise and consent, we are going to fill that seat.”
Attendees chanted, “Fill that seat!”
Pence also acknowledged the staggering toll of the coronavirus, a tally which surpassed 200,000 deaths on Tuesday, saying the country had reached “a heartbreaking milestone." Pence said that “the president’s early action” had saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
Trump privately acknowledged the severity of the virus in February, but tried to “play it down,” according to interviews included in a new book by the journalist Bob Woodward. Now the United States has announced more deaths than any other country.
During the 40-minute speech, Pence ran through a series of campaign talking points, accusing Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden of not supporting law enforcement, and portraying Trump’s presidency as an economic success.
“We’re going to back the blue, and we’re not going to defund the police,” Pence said, referring to a recent demand at protests across the country. Pence warned of the “radical left” and praised Trump as “the most prolife president in American history.”
“Our economy is standing back up,” Pence said, describing Trump as a “proven job creator."
Even against the backdrop of a pandemic that has crippled the economy, filling the Supreme Court seat was top of mind for both Pence and supporters.
“Four more years means more judges,” Pence said.
Chau Kelley of Hooksett, N.H., said she’d been closely following the aftermath of Ginsburg’s death.
“We’re sorry to hear about that, but we’d like to have our great president fill that seat,” Kelley said.
Pence has indicated he supports Trump’s effort to nominate a justice and to move that person quickly through a confirmation process. If one more Senate Republican announces they will not vote for the nominee, Pence will be called upon to cast a tie-breaking vote as Senate president.
A half mile from where Pence was scheduled to speak, a dozen or so Biden supporters stood at a busy intersection, raising signs and a balloon mockingly depicting Trump.
The small gathering, held in response to Pence’s appearance, drew plenty of animated responses from passersby.
“Hey! (Expletive) Biden!” yelled a woman passing in an SUV.
“Boo!” shouted a man in a truck.
Asked about the response they’d so far received, Steve Hinton of Moultonborough, N.H., replied, “We know that we’ve been flipped off 16 times since we’ve been here” — though he did estimate the group had received more positive feedback than negative.
Still, he said, “You see by the people that flip us off and give us a thumbs down that there’s people OK with the way things are going.”
Back near the rally, Grace Gamble, 5, was sporting a leg cast and being toted in a red, white, and blue wagon by her grandfather, Frank Gamble.
“This is her MAGA-wagon,” said Gamble, a Trump/Pence supporter from Gilford.
He’d found out about Pence’s appearance the night before and was eager to bring his granddaughter to her first political rally.
“They’re never too young to get to know politics,” he said.
Paul Moynihan said his concern for the nation is what prompted him to attend.
“Even the death of Bader Ginsburg, and the things that have been stated over the last few days, has made us want to show our support for the Trump/Pence ticket,” said Moynihan, who said he held a special respect for Pence given his views, particularly on the issue of sanctity of life.
Pence’s visit was the latest in a string of sojourns from the Trump campaign and the White House to New Hampshire in recent weeks, suggesting the campaign sees the state as a potential battleground. Trump hosted a spirited rally last month in Manchester, and Eric Trump, Melania Trump, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos all traveled to the state last week. New Hampshire gave Trump his first-ever election victory in the 2016 primary, and his narrowest state loss in the general election, by just 2,700 votes.
Biden currently leads Trump in polls in the state. Last week, the spouses of Kamala Harris and Biden campaigned in Dover; Biden himself hasn’t been to New Hampshire since he placed fifth in the presidential primary in February.
In advance of the Pence visit New Hampshire Democratic Party chairman Ray Buckley told reporters he didn’t expect Biden to campaign in the state ahead of Election Day due to concerns over public safety.
“This campaign is not going to be won by visits, it’s going to be won by the voters,” said Buckley.
For most of the year, New Hampshire has been overlooked as a swing state as both campaigns sought bigger Electoral College prizes in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, North Carolina, and Florida. But the latest campaign travel combined with the fact that Biden began television advertisements in the state on Tuesday suggest each campaign believes New Hampshire is more in play than sparse public polling indicates.
“We will make America great again, again!” Pence said as he closed the rally.