Vice President Mike Pence’s seventh Michigan visit in 10 months blew through Lansing Tuesday with a warm embrace of the state’s farmers at the Michigan Farm Bureau’s legislative seminar and a surprise pancake order at the Fleetwood Diner on South Cedar.
With U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in tow, Pence repeatedly thanked roughly 500 MFB members at the Lansing Center for growing the country’s food supply during a 25-minute address. It ended with an explosion of applause and a smattering of “four more years” chants.
“We’re going to stand strong with you no matter what political philosophy or political winds are blowing,” Pence said. “President Donald Trump, this vice president, this administration will always stand with the American farmer.”
Moments earlier, Pence was squeezing through customers, wait staff, his staff, media and the secret service to order up some Fleetwood Diner hot cakes for National Pancake Day. (A visit to Quality Dairy for a Fat Tuesday paczki didn’t make the agenda).
He looped around the main dining room, shaking hands and getting pictures with curious patrons — some who support Trump and others who don’t.
“God bless you,” reporters heard one woman say.
Another patron told the pool reporter that had she known Pence would be there, she’d have gone elsewhere. When Pence came to shake her hand, she told him she was a Democrat and not a Trump fan. The vice president thanked her for saying hello to him anyway.
While Tuesday’s drop-in was an official vice-presidential visit, the lines between official business and re-election politicking were noticeably blurred. Embedded in the multi-car vice presidential caravan that circled the city of Lansing was a Trump/Pence “Keep America Great” campaign bus with the duo’s picture plastered on the side.
Pence’s afternoon gig in Troy was advertised as a “Keep America Great” event.
It’s also notable that Pence’s visit crossed the competitive 8th and 11th congressional districts, which freshmen U.S. Reps. Elissa Slotkin and Haley Stevens call home. The itinerary didn’t come as a surprise to either one. Both sent out fundraising emails prior to the visit.
“We know that the Trump team is here because winning Michigan is vital to their strategy to keep the White House,” Slotkin’s re-election money pitch reads. “When the Trump team is here, they fire up their supporters, and spread ‘alternative facts’ about the work Elissa is doing in Congress to improve the lives of Michigan’s families.”
The repeated visits come amid two new polls showing Democratic presidential frontrunner Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Mike Bloomberg roughly 4-to-7 percentage points ahead in Michigan. The numbers are slightly above the polls’ margin of error.
Michigan was critical in Trump winning the presidency in 2016. He and Pence’s keen focus on Michigan isn’t a coincidence.
The former Indiana governor visited Taylor last April, Detroit in August, Mackinac Island in September, the Upper Peninsula (briefly) in October and West Michigan in early December. A week before Christmas, Pence did the Frankenmuth thing before joining Pence in Battle Creek for the infamous “Merry Christmas” rally.
At the Lansing Center today, Pence stayed mostly away from politics, but couldn’t help referencing Bloomberg — whom he didn’t mention by name — for allegedly claiming that farming was easy.
“I’m sure you all saw one of the other side’s candidates for president said, ‘I can teach anybody to be a farmer . . . It’s a process. You dig a hole. You put a seed in. You put dirt on top. You add water. Up comes corn.”
After some incredulous chuckles, Pence said, “I have never heard a more uninformed, ignorant statement about agriculture in my life.”
Bloomberg’s camp quickly points out that the statement was heavily edited and taken out of context. The New York mayor was referring to the agrarian society that lasted 3,000 years and the value of process.
“Mike wasn’t talking about today’s farmers at all, and Team Trump is deliberately misleading Americans because Donald Trump’s erratic policies have devastated American farms, including a 20% increase in U.S. farm bankruptcies last year,” said Bloomberg spokesman Charly Norton.
Still, the Michigan Farm Bureau attendees ate it up. Any attendees who might not have given Pence a standing ovation were lost among those who did.
Arenac County farmer Leona Daniels said she feels the current administration is listening to the concerns of farmers and acting on them, particularly with his aggressive negotiation of the new U.S., Mexico, Canada Agreement and his first steps on working out a different trade deal with China.
“You can stand up for someone who is willing to stand up for your interests,” Daniels said.
(Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS is at firstname.lastname@example.org.)