KISSIMMEE, Fla. (CN) – Vice President Mike Pence rallied a Florida church full of potential Latino voters on Thursday evening by appealing to their faith and announcing a disaster declaration for Puerto Rico.
Pence spoke to roughly 200 attendees at Nación de Fe, a non-denominational church in Central Florida catering to mostly Hispanic parishioners.
The event, organized by “Latinos for Trump” and President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, sought to galvanize support among the area’s sizable Hispanic population.
“This community in Florida and around the country represents what’s best about our country – hard work, family, faith and freedom,” Pence said.
Unlike Trump’s frenzied rallies where he often speaks off-the-cuff, Pence’s restrained, more measured style fit the church’s atmosphere. The vice president stuck to red meat messages popular with the Republican base like support for the military, Trump’s success in nominating conservative federal judges and building the economy.
But Pence did not shy away from more hot-button issues like illegal immigration and vowed to finish building a wall along the country’s southern border.
“We’re going to secure this border and solve the illegal immigration crisis,” he said.
But the largest applause and yells came when Pence, a devout Christian, addressed faith-based issues.
“Freedom of religion should not stop at the schoolhouse door,” he said as the crowd leapt to their feet.
Earlier in the day, Trump commemorated National Freedom Day by directing the Department of Education to send out letters to education officials in each state to remind them of federal rules protecting some types of prayer in school.
Pence also announced Trump’s approval on Thursday of a disaster declaration for Puerto Rico following a series of earthquakes over the last month. The declaration allows for grants and low-cost loans for residents to make repairs to their damaged homes.
“Our message to Puerto Rican Americans is simply this: We are with you today, we are with you tomorrow and we’ll be with you every day until we rebuild Puerto Rico bigger and better than ever,” the vice president said.
Osceola County, where Pence spoke, has seen a 22% increase in Puerto Rican residents after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.
But many Puerto Ricans criticize the Trump administration’s delay in providing federal disaster relief after the hurricane. Recent polls show Trump has a low approval rating with the state’s Puerto Rican community.
Earlier this week, the Florida Democratic Party sought to capitalize on that frustration by unveiling a billboard on a major commuter highway with a photo of Trump throwing paper towel rolls to Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria with the words, “Prohibido olvidar,” which translates to “never forget” in English.
In a statement, Juan Peñalosa, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, said the billboard is meant to remind voters of Trump’s broken promises.
“When the Americans in Puerto Rico needed President Trump the most, he threw paper towels at them instead of releasing federal emergency funds,” he said. “Donald Trump is more interested in tweeting insults at his enemies than tackling spiraling health care costs, protecting American jobs and the growing climate crisis.”
Florida is critical to Trump’s reelection and the president has held four rallies in the state in the last eight months, including his kick-off campaign event in nearby Orlando.
In the 2016 presidential election, Trump took Florida’s 29 electoral votes by less than 120,000 votes.
The state’s Hispanic community, which makes up nearly a quarter of the state’s population, is particularly important.
Bob Cortes was among those sitting in the church pews to hear Pence speak. A former state representative for the area, Cortes stressed Latinos are supporting Trump on account of a booming economy and his social conservative views.
“The best thing we can do for a family or individual is help them find a job,” Cortes told Courthouse News. “Minorities like myself are benefiting from Trump’s leadership.”