MANCHESTER, N.H. — Ping-Ponging between tax cuts and tariffs, Vice President Mike Pence delivered a stump-style speech Thursday in the same city — and to some of the same audience — where President Trump spoke days earlier, in an appearance that felt designed to rev the reelection engine as much as tout policy.
Pence’s appearance in a downtown hotel was intended to close a forum focused on the federal tax overhaul. But the vice president, whose appearance came just three days after Trump visited here, spent more time ticking through the details of an expected $1.3 trillion spending bill and Trump’s opioid plan than he did celebrating the three-month-old tax law.
“The truth is, under the president’s leadership, growth is back, confidence is back, and I stand before you today to tell you, America is back,” Pence said to cheers from a friendly crowd at the Manchester Downtown Hotel Expo Center.
He pointed repeatedly to the spending bill that worked its way through Congress Thursday and includes $1.6 billion for the border wall and funding for fighting the opioid epidemic.
“We’re going to do more than any administration has ever done in . . . American history,” Pence said of the battle against addiction, echoing remarks Trump made during his opioid-focused event in Manchester, where he criticized Boston and Lawrence’s so-called “sanctuary city” policies that protect illegal immigrants.
“We’ve got to get tougher,” Pence said. “We’ve got to get tougher in securing our borders. We’ve got to get tougher on cracking down on criminal gangs. We’ve got to crack down on sanctuary cities.”
He did cite the tax cut, however, when he took aim at House minority leader Nancy Pelosi for the California Democrat’s criticisms that the bonuses handed out in the wake of the tax law were “crumbs.”
“The truth is, these pay raises and bonuses are making a real difference. Any leader who says $1,000 in the pocket of working families is crumbs is out of touch with the American people,” said Pence, who estimated that the average New Hampshire family of four would see a tax cut of $2,900.
While technically policy speeches, the dual visits to the first-in-the-nation primary state had a feel of a political blitz pushing the White House’s successes and priorities in a crucial election-year state.
The state is already drawing Republicans who may offer Trump a primary challenge, including Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, who visited last weekend, and Ohio Governor John Kasich, who is slated to have an event next month.
“If there’s an area where [Trump’s] policies are going to play well, it’s here,” GOP strategist Tom Rath said of New Hampshire, a state long known for its lax tax policies but, in recent years, a dangerous wave of fatal overdoses.
“Some of it is pushing a message,” Rath said of the visits. “Some of it is preventative medicine of the political nature.”
It was also a targeted boost for New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu. Pence was scheduled to deliver remarks at a fund-raiser for the first-term governor later Thursday in an adjacent banquet hall, where tickets were $500 apiece and table prices ranged from $5,000 to $7,000. The event also offered attendees a photo with Pence for $2,500, according to a Sununu aide.
The speech was Pence’s seventh stop in less than two months on a tour created to trumpet the tax law Trump signed in December. It was organized by America First Policies, a nonprofit founded to promote Trump’s policy agenda.
While Pence didn’t directly focus on taxes, he had help. Before he spoke, former New Hampshire senator Kelly Ayotte helped helm a three-person panel discussing the tax law’s benefits for New Hampshire.
The Republican pointed to companies that said they’d give employee bonuses in the wake of the tax cuts, and she cited an anecdote of a small-business owner who called her directly, saying he was handing out a $500 bonus.
“You know how to spend your money a lot better than the federal government,” Ayotte told the crowd.
How widespread the practice has been in New Hampshire is unclear. In a three-page memo with “talking points” that event organizers handed out before Pence’s speech, it cited just two examples of Granite State companies doing so.
The event had a campaign-style feel, with the crowd repeatedly interrupting Pence with applause as he ticked through the policies Trump had promised to push on the campaign trail here in 2016. Trump won the Republican primary in New Hampshire but lost here in November to Hillary Clinton.
“First-in-the-nation primary — it all starts here. It’s crazy here,” Paul Chevalier, 81, a retired US Marine Corps sergeant major who attended both Pence and Trump’s speeches, said of the dual visits. “I’m a big supporter of the team.”
The first several rows of the modest convention center included seats with “reserved” signs, where Ruth Boudreau, a 52-year-old Winthrop, Mass., resident, said she got an invitation after knocking on doors for Trump’s 2016 campaign.
“He’s awesome. Every time he opens his mouth, he’s awesome,” Boudreau said of Trump.
She said she believes the tax reforms will help her and the country. Asked, then, what she hoped to hear from Pence, she said, “Maybe some details.”