Pence visits Michigan in effort to solidify swing-state support

TROY, Mich. - Vice President Pence on Tuesday made a swing through Michigan, meeting voters face-to-face and seeking to solidify support among key voting blocs in what is likely to be a critical swing state in November.

Pence delivered remarks at a Michigan Farm Bureau convention and a Trump campaign event. He also stopped for nearly 30 minutes at an area diner, mingling with locals before continuing on to his scheduled events.

Trump carried Michigan and its 16 electoral votes in 2016 by fewer than 11,000 votes. Pence's eight-hour visit underscored the importance of the state to the president's chances of reelection. 

"We had a great Michigan day," Pence told supporters. "I'm here for one reason and one reason only, and that is that Michigan and America need four more years of President Donald Trump."

Pence spoke to a crowd of roughly 600 people at the Detroit Marriott. The event resembled a toned-down Trump rally. Whereas Pence often serves as a warm-up act for Trump, he was the main event on Tuesday, delivering a stump speech heavy on praise for the president and criticism of Democrats.

He rattled off a laundry list of accomplishments by the Trump administration, including new trade deals, investments in the military and progress on the wall along the southern border.

And he highlighted divisions among the Democrats as they struggle to coalesce behind a single candidate to challenge Trump hours before the top candidates took to the debate stage in South Carolina.

Still, a Quinnipiac University poll released last week showed Trump trailing each of the top-tier Democratic candidates in Michigan.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) leads Trump 48 percent to 43 percent in a hypothetical head-to-head match-up. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg leads 47 percent to 42 percent.

Former Vice President Joe Biden leads Trump 47 percent to 43 percent in a hypothetical head-to-head match-up, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) leads 45 percent to 43 percent.

Pence targeted Sanders and Bloomberg in particular during Tuesday's trip, casting them as out of touch with the preferences of Michiganders and the country as a whole.

He said he doubted that Sanders - who handily won the 2016 Democratic primary in Michigan - would be able to take the state back from Trump in November.

"Telling hundred of thousands of UAW workers that they'll lose their health insurance doesn't sound like a winning message," Pence told reporters aboard his campaign bus while traversing the state.

He seized on recently resurfaced remarks from Bloomberg, who in 2016 said he could "teach anybody to be a farmer" when  was highlighting the differences between farming and information technology.

"I have never heard a more uninformed, ignorant statement about agriculture in my life," Pence told members of the Michigan Farm Bureau in Lansing.

Combining his criticism of the two, Pence told supporters in Troy, "I don't know what's worse: believing that socialism works or believing that farming is easy."

Pence was joined on the trip by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who also addressed the Michigan Farm Bureau and the campaign rally in Troy. The Trump administration is banking on steady support from farmers, despite many facing financial hardship due to the president's use of tariffs in negotiating trade deals.

The two men projected confidence that farmers would reap the benefits of new trade deals with China, Canada and Mexico. But many farmers have been hit hard financially by Trump's reliance on tariffs as a negotiating tool.

Pence alluded to their hardship in his remarks Tuesday but cited rollbacks of regulations and tax cuts as proof the administration is focused on aiding farmers.

"This president and this entire administration have supported agriculture from the very beginning," he said. "And just as you've stood with us ... we will always stand with you."

Pence has been a prominent campaign surrogate for Trump, trekking to key states such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania in recent weeks. He has often met voters in more intimate settings and offered a more personal touch in sharp contrast to the scale and bombast of Trump's rally speeches.

At the Fleetwood Diner in Lansing, Pence was greeted by dozens of patrons with applause and chants of "Trump-Pence" and "four more years." After ordering blueberry pancakes for National Pancake Day, Pence sat in a booth with a father and son and posed for photos with numerous other customers. He patted one woman on the shoulder as they laughed and exchanged pleasantries.

But not everyone was as excited to see the vice president. Jeanne Hildabridle said as security and press packed around her table that she wouldn't have come to the Fleetwood Diner on Tuesday had she known Pence would stop by, citing her opposition to the Trump administration.

When Pence shook her hand, Hildabridle told him she was a Democrat and not a Trump fan. Pence thanked her for saying hello anyway before moving on to the next table of supporters.