Pence Courts Christian Voters at Florida Campaign Stop

Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the Hilton Clearwater Beach Resort in Clearwater, Fla., on Wednesday. (Courthouse News photo/Alex Pickett)

CLEARWATER, Fla. (CN) — Vice President Mike Pence touted President Donald Trump’s evangelical bona fides during a visit to Florida on Wednesday, courting faith-based voters in the crucial swing state.

“For all he’s done for people of faith all across American, we need four more years of President Trump,” Pence told a crowd of a few hundred supporters inside a Hilton hotel ballroom on Clearwater Beach.

Pence’s visit to Florida — his second in nine days — comes as polls show presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden narrowly leading in the presidential race.

Florida is a must-win battleground state for Trump, who changed his residency from New York to the Sunshine State late last year. The president narrowly won Florida in 2016 by less than 1% of the vote.

White evangelicals represent a vital voting bloc for Trump. Pence, a self-described born-again Christian, has been key in the campaign’s efforts to get them out to vote.

In January, Trump held an “Evangelicals for Trump” rally at a Miami megachurch. Then, earlier this summer, Pence began his “Faith in America” multi-state tour.

Unlike Trump’s frenzied rallies where he often speaks off-the-cuff, Pence’s restrained, more measured style fit the small ballroom’s atmosphere, which the audience filled with hoots and hollers of “four more years!”

The vice president stuck to red-meat messages popular with the Republican base like support for police, Trump’s success in nominating hundreds of conservative federal judges and the Second Amendment.

But the largest applause came when the devout Christian addressed faith-based issues.

“Donald Trump is the most pro-life president in American history,” Pence declared before accusing Biden of wanting “abortion on demand.”

Pence continued to list Trump’s faith-based accomplishments: appointing 200 conservative judges, defunding Planned Parenthood and being the first president to address the March for Life rally.

“The foundation of America is freedom, but the foundation of freedom is faith,” the vice president said. “Our Constitution was designed for a moral and holy people.”

Pence, who heads up the White House’s coronavirus task force, briefly addressed the pandemic ravaging Florida and other battleground states.

“We’re encouraged by the progress we’re making in the Sunshine State and all across the country,” Pence told the mask-wearing crowd. “Cases are coming down, positive tests are going down and the economy is coming back.”

Florida’s total number of coronavirus cases topped half a million on Wednesday with over 5,400 new cases reported by state health officials.  More than 7,600 Floridians have succumbed to Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

Hours before Pence’s visit, Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez called the vice president’s campaign stop a “photo-op.”

“Pence should be listening to the voices of Floridians who are still suffering as Covid spikes, or the Floridians of faith who are repulsed by Trump’s efforts to strip away health care coverage from millions in the midst of a pandemic,” Perez said. “In November, Floridians of every faith and political persuasion will hold this administration accountable by voting Trump and Pence out of office.”

A Mason-Dixon poll released last week shows Biden with a slight 4% lead over Trump in Florida with another 4% undecided. A survey released by Redfield & Wilton Strategies gave Biden a 7-point lead.

In a poll conducted in June, the Pew Research Center found Trump’s approval rating dipped across most Christian groups, including Catholics of which Biden identifies, though white evangelicals remained largely supportive.

Clearwater, known for its sugar sand beaches and the spiritual headquarters of Scientology, is part of the Tampa Bay area, a major media market and bellwether for how the rest of the state votes. The Trump campaign is clearly targeting the area. Last week, the president visited a nearby golf course for a fundraiser.

Holding a Trump campaign sign after the event, Don Poidevin said the vice president was “inspirational.”

“It was a positive message across the board,” the 55-year-old said.

Poidevin said the faith-based issues are not the main reason he supports the president.

“I want law and order,” he said.

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