ORLANDO, Fla. — Vice President Mike Pence held two rallies in Central Florida on Saturday, paving the way for President Donald Trump to campaign in the region on Monday.
“The road to victory runs through Florida,” Pence told the crowd of more than 300 at the outdoor rally on a hot, sunny afternoon. The Latinos for Trump event was at Central Christian University in west Orlando.
Pence praised Trump for supporting Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido against the country’s socialist leader, Nicolas Maduro, and for reversing the openness measures the Obama administration had begun with Cuba’s government.
“In this White House, it will always be, Viva Cuba Libre!” Pence said.
Pence said the unemployment rate for Hispanic Americans had been the lowest in history “in the first three years.”
“We made America great again,” Pence said. “And then the coronavirus struck from China.”
Without mentioning the current death toll of more than 210,000 Americans, Pence cited his work as the White House’s point man on the pandemic and Trump’s China travel ban in January.
The vice president did touch on Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis, just minutes before Trump himself addressed supporters from the White House balcony in his first public event since leaving the hospital Monday.
“I spoke to the president this morning before I came to Florida, and I can tell you, he and the first lady are doing just great,” he said.
He also said to remember “all those that have been impacted by the coronavirus (and) families that have suffered loss.”
“Can we just take a moment to say thanks to the doctors, the nurses, the first responders and everyone who helped America through (the pandemic)?” he asked, leading to a standing ovation from the largely maskless crowd.
“And we’re opening up America again,” he said immediately afterward.
By 1:30 p.m., hundreds of Trump supporters, many riding in golf carts, lined up outside a parking lot in Brownwood Paddock Square in The Villages, hours before Pence’s second stop on Saturday. Dozens more lined up outside the penned venue.
The goal of the rally was to win the support of seniors and veterans, voting blocs that appear to be in play ahead of the Nov. 3 election.
Bill Natalie, a resident of the Villages, said he has noticed more support for former Vice President Bill Biden around town in recent weeks, but he said he believes his community will continue to be a firm Trump stronghold.
“It’s depressing to see” Biden supporters starting to have a presence in the area, said Natalie, who attended the Pence rally wearing a “Villagers for Trump” T-shirt. “But when I see hangouts like this, it feels like that impression is a little misleading.”
Sheonna Hill, 42, came to the rally from Ormond Beach with her aunt. Both wore shirts that read “Socialism Distancing,” a design that Hill said she came up with.
Hill said she hasn’t voted in a presidential election before and skipped out on voting in 2016 because “Trump was an arrogant (expletive] on TV, and I didn’t like Hillary.” But she plans on voting for Trump this year, partly to avoid what she thinks would be a socialist takeover should Biden become president.
“The only other president I wanted to vote for was (Ronald) Reagan, but I was too young,” Hill said. “Over the last four years, I’ve been very impressed by what I’ve seen from Trump, and we need to keep going with him.”
The Pence campaign swing comes a week after Trump’s planned rally at Orlando Sanford International Airport was called off because of the president’s positive coronavirus diagnosis. Trump has now rescheduled that rally at the airport for Monday night.
On Saturday, attorney Daniel Uhlfelder, who gained notoriety during Florida’s pandemic wave this summer by dressing as the Grim Reaper at beaches and other gatherings, filed a lawsuit in Seminole Circuit Court to try to stop Trump from coming. Uhlfelder asked the court to declare the event “a nuisance” and wanted an emergency temporary injunction requiring (its) cancellation.
The Pence rallies targeted two key voter demographics in Florida.
Trump’s camp says it has made inroads with Latino voters, as U.S. Sen. Rick Scott did in 2018. Polls, though, have shown mixed messages about whether Biden is doing less well with Latino voters in Florida compared with Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Polls also have shown Biden winning the 65-and-older demographic, a big turnaround from 2016 if that holds. The Villages is the largest senior community in the nation, spreading over Lake, Marion and Sumter counties, and went heavily for Trump in 2016.
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