5 takeaways from Vice President Mike Pence’s Fort Wayne visit

Vice President Mike Pence speaks during the forum at Marian University with higher education leaders about safely reopening schools amid the coronavirus pandemic on July 24, 2020.

FORT WAYNE — On the evening of the second presidential debate and less than two weeks before Election Day, Vice President Mike Pence stopped Thursday in Fort Wayne to campaign for President Donald Trump.

During his stop at the Fort Wayne Aero Center, Pence criticized Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden for trying to “stack” the Supreme Court, boasted about Trump’s efforts to ensure better trade deals, defended Trump’s record on his handling of the coronavirus and emphasized the need for law and order. 

He also praised Indiana for its role in electing Trump four years ago.

“Here in Indiana we believed we could be strong again. We believed we could be prosperous again,” Pence said during his roughly one hour speech. “We said yes to President Trump in 2016, and I know Indiana is going to say yes to four more years of President Trump in 2020.”

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Fort Wayne sits in the middle of a safe Republican district in a reliably red-voting state, making it an unusual campaign stop this close to the election. Trump won by 19 percentage points in 2016.

Vice President Mike Pence claps to supporters during a Make America Great Again rally at Fort Wayne Aero Center in Fort Wayne, Ind., on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020.

The city is also located in Indiana’s 3rd Congressional District, which political experts think is poised to safely stay in Republican incumbent Jim Banks’ hands. 

However, Fort Wayne is also less than an hour’s drive from the Michigan border and less than 30 minutes from the Ohio border. Both states are considered to be in play more so than Indiana in the presidential race. 

Pence also was expected to meet privately with campaign donors as a show of appreciation, USA Today reported.   

At the Fort Wayne Aero Center, a few hundred people sat in spaced-out chairs to hear what Pence had to say. Eighth District Congressman Larry Bucshon, Banks, Gov. Eric Holcomb and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise all attended the rally. 

Here are five takeaways from Pence’s visit:

Pence defended Trump on the coronavirus

For much of his speech, Pence avoided talking about the coronavirus. He did, however, defend Trump’s decision to close off travel to China, saying it “saved untold American lives.”

Pence also criticized Biden’s plans to slow the spread of the coronavirus, arguing they would further hurt the economy. 

“When Joe Biden is talking about shutting down our economy,” Pence said, “we’re opening up America again.”

Earlier that morning, state Democrats held a news conference to discuss how Trump and Pence have failed to slow the spread of the coronavirus in their eyes. 

“The positivity rate for COVID has nearly doubled in the last month. Hospitals are filling up,” Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody said. “It’s getting worse, and the Trump-Pence administration aren’t doing what they should be doing.” 

Many in the crowd were maskless

Maybe a quarter at most of the people in the audience were wearing a mask during various points of Thursday’s event, the same day that Indiana reported 2,880 new coronavirus cases, a record-breaking number.

Allen County itself had a record-breaking case number Thursday as well with with 152 new cases. 

A supporter wears a Trump 2020 hat as Vice President Mike Pence lands in Fort Wayne before speaking at a Make America Great Again rally at Fort Wayne Aero Center in Fort Wayne on Oct. 22, 2020.

Chairs were spread apart from each other, but some people chose to stand closer together. Also, when Pence’s plane first landed, members of the audience crowded together in the back of the hangar to see Air Force Two. 

About an hour later music on a loud speaker stopped as a voice encouraged people to wear a mask.

Pence focused on the economy, the economy before the coronavirus

“President Trump created the greatest economy in history,” Pence said, focusing on the status of the economy during their first three years in office.

He praised Trump’s decision to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement with the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and his move to “put China on notice” using tariffs. 

“Half of our international trade deficit was with communist China,” Pence said. “And Joe Biden never lifted a finger to do anything about it.”

Before the pandemic Americans’ confidence in the economy had not been as high since the late 1990s, according to a Gallup survey. In January, Indiana’s unemployment rate was 3.1%, the lowest it had been in nearly two decades. 

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb fist bumps Vice President Mike Pence during a Make America Great Again rally at Fort Wayne Aero Center.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, however, real gross domestic product in Indiana plummeted, the unemployment rate hasn’t returned to its pre-coronavirus levels and businesses have permanently shut their doors.  

Indiana’s real gross domestic product — the market value of goods and services produced by the labor and property located in a state — dropped to $344 billion in the second quarter of the year from $381.9 billion in the first quarter, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. 

According to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, the unemployment rate in September dropped to 6.2%, an improvement from earlier in the year but still 3% higher than it was in September 2019.

Pence warned of packing the courts

Not surprisingly, Pence spoke about the upcoming confirmation vote of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court. Just Thursday morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to confirm her. 

He referenced what he viewed as an anti-religious statement from a Democratic senator during the judge’s 2017 Court of Appeals confirmation, in which the senator said, “The dogma lives loudly within you.”

“That dogma lives loudly in me,” Pence said to cheers.

He also warned people that Biden and other Democrats could try to pack the Supreme Court by increasing the number of justices. The court is poised to have a 6-3 conservative majority if Barrett is confirmed.

“When you run for the highest office in the land,” Pence said, “you have to respect the highest court in the land.”

Pence praised Holcomb, Banks, Bucshon

Pence used his time at the microphone to praise Holcomb and the congressmen in attendance. 

He called Holcomb “one of the best governors in America” and praised Banks, a veteran, for his work on Veterans Affairs issues. 

Holcomb, Banks and Bucshon are all up for reelection this year. 

Pence did not reference what is widely viewed at the most hotly contested race in the state, Indiana’s 5th Congressional District race. 

Banks and Holcomb, who both spoke, returned the praise. 

Banks, who is poised to become the next chair of the Study Committee, the House’s conservative caucus, called Pence his “political hero” and Trump “the greatest president of my lifetime.”

How to vote

Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Nov. 3, Election Day. Hoosiers can see where to vote early by checking their county’s election board office website or can mail in a ballot. Ballots must arrive by noon on Election Day. Hoosiers can check their registration status and day-of polling location at indianavoters.in.gov. 

IndyStar reporter Alexandria Burris contributed to this story.

Call IndyStar reporter Kaitlin Lange at 317-432-9270. Follow her on Twitter: @kaitlin_lange.