Mike Pence, from the press conference announcing his selection as Donald Trump's running mate, July 16
Mike Pence, from the press conference announcing his selection as Donald Trump's running mate, July 16 | lev radin

Pence tells Virginia crowd to 'end the silence,' promote Trump

A relaxed and confident Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence made his first solo campaign appearance in Virginia on Thursday afternoon, telling a large crowd in Virginia Beach that "now is not the time to be a silent majority," and urging attendees to spread the word about the Republican ticket if it has inspired them "in any way."

Pence's visit, coming just two days after a hastily scheduled appearance by presidential nominee Donald Trump in Ashburn, Virginia, differed in tone and content from the typical Trump rally.

Pence opened his remarks speaking from a prepared text, unlike Trump, in which he hit on traditional conservative themes of opportunity and limited government, and he told the crowd the election boiled down to whether the nation would "double down on paternalistic policies, or turn back toward freedom." 

He spoke of how he "was blessed with a front row seat to the American dream," and related the story of how his grandfather, an Irish immigrant, came to the United States to make a new life for himself. 

Pence also spoke out against the tone in political debate, noting that it has "become like a cable news show, it’s like 'Cross Fire' all the time" with people shouting at one another, instead of debating ideas.

Pence said there was "more in this country that will unite us than ever divide us."

The candidate also noted that "Virginia will loom large" in the election, a point he made clear by noting how "Hillary chose my competitor [Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine] from around these parts." 

Kaine made his first solo visit to the commonwealth on Monday evening. In his speech, Kaine also said Virginia would play a critical role in the presidential election.

Reports on Thursday said a pro-Clinton super PAC, Priorities USA, had pulled its planned broadcast television ad buy in Virginia, which was interpreted as a sign of confidence the Clinton campaign is doing well in the state. 

At the same time, Priorities USA is running web ads targeting Hispanic voters in key states, including Virginia.

The RealClear Politics average of polls conducted in Virginia show the Clinton-Kaine ticket with a 5.3-percentage-point advantage over Trump and Pence.

Pence did not mention the ad wars or spending. Instead, he urged the crowd to use old-fashioned word of mouth to spread the GOP ticket's message.

"I hope you came here today to get motivated," Pence said, "to end the silence" that may keep people away from the polls, and harm Republican candidates up and down the ballot.

During a brief question and answer session with the crowd, Pence was asked how a Trump administration would address gay and lesbian rights, and whether there would be diversity of opinion in the campaign.

"I avoid discrimination of anyone," Pence said.  "These issues are best worked out at the state level, and not through dictates from Washington, D.C."

"We work these issues out with compassion and respect."

As Indiana's governor, Pence signed a religious freedom bill in 2015, that critics said would have allowed for legal discrimination against homosexuals.

In a March 2015 press conference, Pence said that while he "believe[d] in religious liberty," and that he "abhor[ed] discrimination," there had been a great deal of "misunderstanding and confusion and mischaracterization" of the original law.

Pence sought and won approval of changes to the statute that he said would make clear "that this law does not give businesses the right to deny services to anyone."

In a related development on Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court blocked the enforcement of a lower court order allowing transgender student Gavin Grimm, who was born female but now identifies as male, to use the boys' restroom in the Glouchester County schools.

The school system has requested the Court's intervention while it prepares its appeal of a 4th Circuit Court of Appeal decision that held the district's denial of Grimm's choice of restroom facilities violated the Title IX ban on sexual discrimination.

The event's final question from the audience came from a young boy named Tucker, who asked Pence "where will America be in the next four years?"

Pence said that was "in the hands of the American people right now."

"America is going to choose strength," Pence said.  "Four years from now, we will have made America great again."