Pence comes out swinging for Trump at N.C. campaign rally

Maureen Groppe
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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence speaks in Charlotte, N.C., on Oct. 10, 2016.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Saying he believes in the Christian principle of forgiveness, GOP vice presidential candidate Mike Pence offered a full-throated endorsement of Donald Trump Monday.

“It takes a big man to know when he’s wrong and to admit it,” Pence said in his first campaign event since he canceled a Saturday appearance and said he couldn’t defend Trump’s vulgar and sexually aggressive comments about women captured on a 2005 videotape. “Donald Trump showed last night that he’s a big man.”

Indiana's governor said before Sunday’s debate between presidential candidates Trump and Hillary Clinton that Trump needed to show “what is in his heart.” And, Pence said Monday, Trump did just that.

“Then he fought back and turned the focus to the choice that we face,” Pence said to cheers from the crowd of a few hundred people. “I’m proud to stand with Donald Trump.”

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Pence started the event with his standard line, that his preferred introduction is he’s a Christian, a conservative and a Republican – in that order. And then he turned quickly to the elephant in the room.

“It’s been an interesting few days,” he said.

Pence said Christians should aspire to live godly lives, “but we all fall short of the glory of God.”

“I don’t condone what was said, and I spoke out against it. But the other part of my faith is, I believe in grace,” Pence said. “I’ve received it. I believe in it. I believe in forgiveness.”

Desiree Miller, 53, of Charlotte, said she appreciated Pence’s defense of Trump, and hopes Republicans who have withdrawn their support “get some sense.”

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts reportedly canceled a fundraiser Pence was set to attend Tuesday during a campaign swing through Nebraska and Iowa.

More than three dozen Republican governors, senators and U.S. representatives have decided not to vote for their party’s nominee. While House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has not withdrawn his endorsement, he told fellow GOP lawmakers Monday he won’t defend Trump or campaign with him.

Miller, a Christian who is active in the anti-abortion movement, said Trump asked for forgiveness.

“He did it with humility. Therefore I forgive him for what he said,” Miller said. But Democratic nominee Clinton, Miller said, doesn’t ever say she’s wrong.

Pence said at Monday's rally the election is about the future of the country, but it’s also about “having the highest standards in the land.”  The media, Pence said, “continues to ignore the avalanche of controversies and corruptions coming out of the years of the Clintons.”

Pence didn’t call the Democratic nominee Crooked Hillary, as his running mate does. But he noted that transcripts leaked Friday about Clinton’s speeches to Wall Street organizations featured her advocating taking both public and private positions in order to accomplish political goals.

During the presidential debate, Clinton argued that former president Abraham Lincoln was taking the same position in arguing for the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery.

“As a member of the party of Lincoln, I would really prefer if Dishonest Hillary did not associate herself with Honest Abe,” Pence said.

While Pence delivered much of his standard stump speech, he remarked on being in choppy waters and got a standing ovation after saying he’s new to this level of politics, calling it “high wire without a net.” And when he said it’s a good time to pray for the country, some audience members joined him in reciting from the Bible:  “That if his people who are called by his name will humble themselves and pray, he’ll hear from Heaven again and he will heal our land.”

Pence was introduced by Robin Hayes, chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, who was part of Pence’s Wednesday morning Bible study group when both served in Congress.

Frank Filippis, who wore a “Hillary for Prison 2016” shirt to the event, said Pence’s remarks on Trump and other issues hit all the right marks.

“We’re Christians. We forgive,” Filippis said of Trump.

The 53-year-old business owner said it wasn’t important to him that Pence address Trump’s remarks at the event. In fact, none of the questions Pence took from the audience were about the controversy. But Filippis said Pence had to discuss it for the media.

“It was good to get it out there and put it to bed,” he said.

Pence also addressed the issue in a series of network interviews Monday, in which he said he never considered leaving the ticket.

"You know I'll always keep my conversations with Donald Trump and my family private. But it's absolutely false to suggest that at any point in time we considered dropping off this ticket," Pence told CNN.

Joseph Pierce, a retired truck driver from Cherryville, N.C., is glad Pence isn’t stepping down.

“It would hurt the election,” Pierce said before Pence spoke.

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Lynn Lytle, 74, of Charlotte, said the video bothered her.

“Who can defend the comments?” Lytle said. But she added, “the important things are the issues in the election.”

And she wants Pence to stay on the ticket because he “adds more credibility.”

“I think he is a good Christian man,” she said.

Robyn Rosenberg, 54, an enthusiastic Pence supporter from Indiana who was visiting North Carolina with her 15-year-old son, dismissed Trump’s video comments.

“Every husband, every man who has been in a locker room has talked that trash,” she said. “It’s so not important. And I’m a woman.”

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