JANESVILLE — Vice President Mike Pence sought to portray himself and President Donald Trump as the law-and-order ticket in his campaign appearance in Janesville on Monday, and the crowd loved it.
Speaking to about 300 people at the Holiday Inn and Convention Center, Pence said police are “some of the best people in this country … They count our lives more than their own.”
He did not directly address the issue that has led to massive protests in recent weeks over charges of racially motivated police brutality and killings of Black people.
Pence portrayed Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden as someone who speaks of peaceful protests while cities burn and who would repeat policies that led to violence in cities. He did not say what policies he meant.
Pence did mention the apparent ambush shooting of two Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies Saturday and the protesters who showed up at the hospital where they were treated, saying, “We hope they die.”
Pence said he and Trump support the right to protest, but he said rioting and looting are not free speech, and that must stop now. He said offenders would be prosecuted “to the full extent of the law,” a line that lifted the crowd to its feet.
Pence noted the record-setting fires on the West Coast and a hurricane threat in the South.
“Know you are in our prayers, and that we are with you every step of the way until we build back, bigger and better,” Pence said.
Pence visited Janesville 50 days from the election, his second stop to the area in less than 30 days. He spoke at a town of Darien factory Aug. 19.
“The road to victory runs right through Wisconsin,” Pence said.
Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Janesville, who introduced Pence, also stressed the law-and-order theme.
“President Trump, Vice President Pence and I oppose defunding police and back the badge,” Steil said.
Steil asked the crowd to applaud all local law enforcement officers. The crowd obliged.
Pence called Steil a rising star. “What a great young guy, and big shoes to fill here in Janesville, Pence said, perhaps referring to Steil’s predecessor Paul Ryan, who was speaker of the House before retiring from Congress in 2018.
Attendee Robert Zas of Janesville said he will vote for Trump, who he sees as someone who has made mistakes.
“But he met the Lord, got saved, repented of his sins,” Zas said. “God forgave him; I forgive him. He makes some stupid mistakes here and there. We all do. He speaks his mind. He tells the truth. He’s here to protect this country.”
The event ended around 11:45 a.m. as Pence’s motorcade headed back to the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport. Pence said he was headed to an event in Montana.
Unlike some of President Trump’s public appearances in the last month, Pence’s Janesville rally did not draw a large crowd of protesters or counter-protesters.
Three demonstrators—two people who oppose Trump’s reelection because of his stance on the COVID-19 pandemic and the issue of climate change, and one person urging Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’s recall—made up the event’s entire protest crowd.
A hotel grounds manager said anyone picketing or demonstrating was being asked to stay off the hotel property.
Close to the event’s entrance, Chris Hionis of Evansville stood holding a sign that read: “Trump lies. People die.”
Hionis said he’s a “lifelong conservative” who identifies himself as a “never Trumper.” He said he will vote for Biden.
Hionis believes Trump has told “20,000 lies” during his presidency, the most significant coming from recent revelations that the president was on record downplaying COVID-19 concerns.
Hionis is concerned that almost 200,000 people in the United States have died from the coronavirus while the president played down the pandemic.
Janesville resident David Innes protested on the same sidewalk as Hionis on Monday.
Innes’s sign read “Fix Climate” and “Tax Carbon” on one side and “Black Lives Matter” on the other side.
Innes said he plans to vote for Biden, but he said he wasn’t protesting Pence’s appearance to pick a fight with supporters of Trump or Pence.
Innes told reporters at the event that he thinks the “hate fest” between Democrats and Republicans is “sophomoric” and a “distraction” from what he thinks is the world’s biggest problem: climate change.
“But a lot of the young people don’t care about climate change and half the state of California being on fire, or 200,000 people dying from a virus,” Innes said.
Innes, his face covered by a mask pointed at a tall woman in her 20s. The woman was mask-free, proudly showing a masked TV news reporter her satin Mike Pence banner.
“The young people are not too worried about all this deficit spending we’re having to do right now,” Innis said.
“Instead, they just keep holding big university parties. You know what’s not laughable about that? They’re going to be the ones picking up the bill for years and years.”
Jennifer Wilkins of Roscoe brought her three young children to the event.
“I want them to be involved in the decisions that will affect America, and I want them to know that it matters what they do in the future and that they need to have an opinion. They need to get involved,” she said.
Wilkins called herself “a reluctant 2016 voter (for Trump) and a gung-ho 2020 voter. I voted for Trump because of Pence in 2016.”
Asked why, she said it was Pence’s conservative Christian values.
If Trump and Pence are defeated this time, “Then it will be God’s will,” Wilkins said. “And I’m going to pray for my president.”