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VP Pence returns to Tucson as campaign winds to close

McSally, Ducey show support from Trump's re-election

With just four days to convince Arizona voters to give the Trump administration another four years, Vice President Pence was back in Tucson for a last-minute campaign stop Friday, pushing for Arizona Republicans while attacking Democratic candidate Joe Biden as part of a rush of GOP campaign events as the state remains up for grabs.

Pence sprinted across the tarmac at Tucson International Airport and told a crowd of around 200 people that November's election was a choice between a "Trump boom and a Biden depression." And, he urged the crowd to vote, first for the president, and then for three down-ticket candidates, including Sen. Martha McSally and Rep. Andy Biggs, along with congressional challenger Brandon Martin.

Unlike President Donald Trump's event 10 days ago, where thousands stood in the heat on the tarmac, many not wearing masks, at Pence's event around half of those attending wore masks, many of them marked with the president's signature phrase "Make America Great Again" or "Trump 2020." 

This is the second time that Pence has come to Tucson since August, and his visit on Friday follows Trump’s barnstorming tours through the state, as the campaign strains hard to bring Arizona—once a reliable state for Republican presidential campaigns—back into the fold.

Polling has shown the president falling behind former Vice President Joe Biden. Since the beginning of October, Trump has been behind in all but three polls, including the New York Times/Siena poll which showed Biden up 8 percentage points against the incumbent president. Meanwhile, Rasmussen released Thursday shows the president up 3 percentage points, however, with 3.5 percent margin of error, the poll shows that Arizona is up for grabs between the two septuagenarians.

Just 10 days ago, Trump visited Tucson and Prescott, and just two days ago, Trump blew through Bullhead City and Goodyear, Ariz. And, on Sunday November 1, Donald Trump Jr. will attend extra events in Nevada and Arizona.

Meanwhile, Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris visited Tucson on Wednesday to meet with Latina businesswomen in Menlo Park, and attend a car rally at Pima Community College West with local Democrats, including Reps. Raúl Grijalva and Ann Kirkpatrick, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero, and Mark Kelly, who is challenging McSally for Arizona's U.S. Senate seat.

Tagging along with McSally and Pence on Air Force Two, Gov. Doug Ducey provided the opening remarks, using his three minutes of speaking time to praise the Trump administration's efforts, including what he called a booming economy and secure borders. Ducey also highlighted Trump’s judicial decisions, commending the president for putting three "strict constructionists"—Neil Gorsuch, Brent Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett—on the Supreme Court. Barrett's nomination and subsequent confirmation to the nation's highest court—replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died just 42 days ago on Sept. 18—remained a major theme throughout the event. McSally said she was "proud" to put Barrett on the bench. 

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"I was so proud to cast my vote for Amy Coney Barrett," McSally said. "The judges President Trump put on the bench are not activists' they will uphold the laws as they were created and written in the Constitution."

McSally spoke for about six minutes, noting that she "saved the A-10,"—the gun-bristling airplane that's become a familiar part of Tucson's skies and her campaign rhetoric —and she returned to a favorite topic, reminding the crowd that she is a former combat pilot. Kelly, her competitor for the Senate seat, is a Navy combat pilot, and astronaut, and McSally attempted to drag her opposition, telling the crowd that she recently received an endorsement from astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the Moon after Neil Armstrong.

"It’s not about whether you like an astronaut or a fighter pilot," McSally said. "Well… technically an attack pilot, but you guys know that. Did you all see that Buzz Aldrin endorsed me? Gotta love an astronaut standing behind you." 

"I’ve been your fighter," McSally said. "To cut taxes, roll back regulations, work with this administration on all the things. My mission right now is to make sure that Chuck Schumer is not in charge of the U.S. Senate," McSally said, referencing the current Senate minority leader. 

McSally faces an uphill battle against Kelly, running around 12 percentage points behind him in Arizona's Senate race. McSally lost her Senate campaign in 2018 to Kyrsten Sinema, but was appointed as Arizona's junior senator by Ducey to fulfill the role vacated after Sen. John McCain died. If she lost again, it would mean that both of Arizona's have flipped from staunch Republicans to Democrats in just four years. 

McSally has consistently voted with the Trump administration as a senator, and continues to tour with the president, even after he called the former Air Force colonel "honey" and "darling" during his speech in Tucson. On Wednesday, the president ordered McSally to the stage at his event in Goodyear, telling her "You got one minute! One minute, Martha! They don’t want to hear this, Martha. Come on. Let’s go. Quick, quick, quick. Come on."

Nonetheless, McSally told the crowd that Kelly was the 51st vote for Schumer, and said that "if you care about freedom and prosperity, I'm your girl."
"Arizona is ground zero," McSally said. "Our future is on the line and we are ground zero, the country is counting on us to send President Trump back to the White House." 

"Joe Biden is just wrong for Arizona," Ducey said. “Joe Biden would open our border. Joe Biden would lock us down, and he will heighten your taxes and cost everyone in Arizona $6,500. It’s time to send Joe Biden back to the basement."

Ducey also took a quick shot at Proposition 208, calling it at tax increase.

Pence highlights economics, coronavirus response, and border wall

In a 48-minute speech, Pence drew a sharp line between the Biden campaign and the Trump administration, while also highlighting the administration's economic efforts and their response to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, which has killed 221,356 people since the outbreak began, infecting nearly 9 million people, including the president and dozens of members of the White House staff.

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At least 473,000 people have been hospitalized in the U.S., and the nation leads the world in infections and deaths for the virus, outpacing India, Brazil, and Mexico, as well as China were the disease originated. 

Pence said that the administration had led the "largest mobilization" since World War II, and he praised Operation Warp Speed, a program managed by Health and Human Services to underwrite coronavirus vaccines and treatments with several companies. While the administration originally promised a vaccine by October, Pence said that one was coming in January.

And, Pence boasted that the "booming economy" has been repaired by the Trump administration, noting that the U.S. Gross Domestic Product grew 33.1 percent in the last quarter. Unmentioned by the VP was that this growth came after a 31.4 percent slide in the economy, and so far in 2020, the economy has grown just 1.7 percent in the last six months. 

Among his points, Pence praised the U.S.-Mexico Canada Agreement, or USMCA, which replaced the Clinton-era trade agreement known as NAFTA.

"When the man who wrote the 'Art of the Deal' came into office, we got a better deal," he said, adding that USMCA was a "better deal for Arizona." 

And, he went after VP candidate Harris, noting she is one of 10 senators who voted against USMCA. As Ducey nodded, Pence called the trade deal a "huge win" for Arizona. He dismissed Harris' complaint that the bill didn't go far enough on climate change, and said that he would put "Arizona jobs" and "American workers" first. He also highlighted what he called a "contrast" between the Trump administration on fracking and fossil fuels, claiming that the Biden campaign wanted to "ban" them. 

Biden has focused on reducing carbon emissions to "net-zero" by 2050, with a direct investment of $1.7 trillion in "clean energy" and a carbon tax. Biden has not moved to "ban" fracking, but has instead said he opposes new drilling, including fracking, on public lands.

Pence argued that the Trump administration had made the U.S. "energy independent" noting that the nation was exporting more energy than before, however, he did not note that the fracking industry—which produces natural gas—grew rapidly under the Obama administration, even as the nation's solar and wind-energy sectors grew. 

Pence also attacked Biden for the scandal at the Veterans Administration, and claimed that the administration had ushered in the Veterans Choice Act.

Better known as the Veterans' Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act, the bill was allows veterans to seek private care, and was signed into law by Obama in 2014. In 2018, the Trump administration replaced the act, with a $55 billion expansion called the VA Mission Act.

Pence gets to border  

Highlighting that he was Arizona, Pence also focused on immigration and the border wall, noting that the Trump administration recently celebrated the construction of 400 miles of border wall, including 200 miles in Arizona. Biden, he said, wants "open borders" and "tax-payer healthcare for illegal aliens," the Vice President claimed, and he said that Biden wants to suspend the Remain in Mexico program, which he said has "transformed the southern border."

Remain in Mexico, otherwise known as the "Migrant Protection Protocols" is a controversial program that federal judges have said violates a "plain reading" of U.S. law. On Oct. 19, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge against the program. 

Pence also praised the National Border Patrol Council—the union for agents of the U.S. Border Patrol—and noted that several of its members, including Brandon Judd, the union's president, and Art Del Cueto, the union's vice president, were in the audience. Del Cueto—a Douglas-area BP agent—and Judd have a long relationship with the president, and the NBPC again endorsed the Trump campaign earlier this year. 

Trump has "stood strong" in support of agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection—Border Patrol's parent agency —and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Pence said. 

"We're keeping America's families safe," Pence said. With "record investments in border security" he said, adding that Biden wants to "stop" building the wall, an idea that drew boos from the crowd. "We’ve already built 400 miles of that wall, including 200 miles in Arizona. With four more years, we’re going to build it all. Keep building that wall, keep supporting these heroes. And, fix this broken immigration system once and for all." 

Pence did not outline what fixing the immigration system would look like, but over the last three years, the administration has outlined drastic cuts in visas, shutdown asylum along the U.S. border, sought the end of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—a program that protects people brought to the U.S. as children—and hamstrung U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that helps people apply for permanent residency and citizenship. 

Like McSally and Ducey, Pence praised the confirmation of Barrett to the court, calling jurists a "vanguard for liberty." The Trump administration, with McSally's help, had added 220 conservatives to the federal bench, "all men and women, who will uphold religion, freedom of speech, and the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms," Pence said. 

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He called Democrats intolerant to faith, and ended his speech with a short-prayer. As he spoke, a few in the crowd raised up their hands in prayer, and then Pence ended the campaign's last efforts to carry Arizona on Tuesday, November 3. 

Attendees focus on 'freedom' 

During Ducey's speech, Esmet Abuhalimeh, 47, yelled out that voters should "recall" Tucson Mayor Romero. 

Abuhalimeh, along with his wife Fanar Abuhalimeh, 40, came to see Pence because they want to see Trump get four more years. Abuhalimeh said in the president's moves regarding "freedom," as well as the economy and international relations. And, he praised the administration's handling of COVID-19. "This virus is more vicious," than other viruses like H1N1, he said. 

"We don’t need a politician," Abuhalimeh said. The president, he said is "doing a great job."

Abuhalimeh called for Romero to be recalled saying that she had done a "bad job" for Tucson, he said, criticizing the mayor's support for Black Lives Matter—including the expenditure for funds to add a banner to the city's tower—and the closure of schools.

"I live in Vail, where when we opened schools, we don't have any cases (in the district)," of COVID-19, he said. Several school districts remained closed—including Tucson Unified School District—based on school board decisions, and data from the Pima County Health Department. County data shows that the ZIP code that includes the Vail area has had more than 360 patients with confirmed coronavirus infections.

Dana Oliver, who came to the event from Sahuarita, said wanted to see Trump in Goodyear on Wednesday, but missed it the event, so she came to see Pence with a friend. Wearing a pink "Women for Trump" mask, Oliver said that Pence "had a lot of good points."

"He reassured me that the whole party is working together to keep our freedoms. And the whole event was well put on. It was a great experience," Oliver said. "I came because I wanted to hear about freedom. I wanted to hear someone is protecting our freedom. The constitution has to be upheld, and I wanted to hear someone willing to protect our way of life. People need hope right now in the pandemic, they need leaders, and Pence and Trump made it clear they are going to fight for us."

 Her friend Debbie Conover, who came from Picture Rocks said she "loves" Pence’s religious character. Not wearing a face covering, Conover called Pence "more soft-spoke than Trump" and said she loved "going to the rallies because they’re a whole experience."

"I love Pence and his religious soul. I really love his comments on the need for being one country right now, no matter what race or nationality you are," she said. 

Kevin McNichols, a retired Arizona state trooper now lives in Green Valley, said he as gone to four Trump rallies. Without a mask in spite of the virus, McNichols boasted he supported Trump from the beginning.

"I really believe in the continued efforts by Trump to draw the country together, and that was a great focus of this speech. Instead of all this pro- or anti-law enforcement, they’re really trying to get all folks on board, bring them to the table and get them to focus on the 60 percent we have in common instead of the 40 percent we don’t," he said. Trump and Pence, he said "complement each other well."

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"One the one hand you have Trump who’s outgoing, wants to throw the system out and doesn’t care what people think. Then you have Pence, who’s a real class act all the way around. They really hold things together and work perfectly as opposites," he said.

“This was a great opportunity to celebrate all the positive things that a Trump administration has done and could do," he said.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

VP Mike Pence hit Tucson on Friday, telling a crowd of around 200 that Biden would be bad for Arizona.