COLORADO SPRINGS — In the hallway of the Antlers Hilton hotel, following a speech by Donald Trump’s running mate Mike Pence in Colorado’s second-largest city, Trump’s state co-chair Robert Blaha had four words for a local GOP lawmaker about why he should get on board with the Republican nominee: “If you love America.”
The lawmaker was Gordon Klingenschmitt, a lightening rod for controversy— he once performed an “exorcism” of President Barack Obama— and a consistent punching bag for Colorado Democrats and national media. A fair question might be whether the Trump campaign in Colorado might actually even want Klingenchmitt’s support. (The lawmaker is looking at Tom Hoefling of the American Party for president this year.)
But the Trump campaign in Colorado makes one thing clear: It wants everybody it can get.
Colorado, traditionally seen as a battleground state, is one both campaigns for president have made a priority in the days following their respective national conventions. On Friday, Trump hit Denver and Colorado Springs. Clinton came through Denver today, the same day Pence campaigned down the Front Range.
During his evening speech to hundreds in the hotel ballroom — not every seat was filled — the socially conservative Indiana governor made his case for Trump to a crowd of Republican voters, plenty of whom didn’t know that much about him until Trump tapped him as his running mate a few weeks ago.
If Trump’s volatile, hour-long stream-of-consciousness was a fireworks factory on fire, Pence’s scripted delivery was a controlled burn. In fact, in an interview prior to Pence taking the stage, Colorado Republican Party Chairman Steve House singled out Pence’s “controlled” way of speaking as important.
In a calm, measured tone, the Midwesterner with close-cropped snow-white hair and a personable style laid out the case for why a non-politician billionaire reality TV star and pop culture icon should be president of the United States.
He said he joined the campaign “in a heartbeat” after getting a phone call late at night and “much reflection and prayer.” He said Trump is a “good man” who “gets it,” is the “genuine article,” and a “doer” who will protect the nation, rid the world of ISIS and “radical Islamic terrorism,” restore law and order, cut taxes, grow the economy, support law enforcement, and squeeze every nickel out of a “bloated federal bureaucracy.” And, of course, repeal Obamacare.
And he made a localized joke.
By way of indicating Trump is just folks, he said the candidate has been “talking to taxi cab drivers and elevator operators,” a poke at Trump finding himself stuck in an elevator at a downtown hotel in the Springs on Friday.
Unlike Trump, Pence stuck to his talking points. Like Trump, Pence stuck it to the media.
“Think about it: The media and the Democrats, they all keep telling each other the usual methods are going to work against him, they keep thinking they’ve done him in, got him this time, right? Then the next morning they turn on the television and there’s Donald Trump standing tall, stronger than ever before,” Pence said to thunderous applause.
About himself, the Indiana governor said he is a “Christian, a conservative, and a Republican.”
He bashed Clinton as unqualified to be commander-in-chief because of things she’s said about Benghazi.
“This is a choice between change and the status quo,” Pence said, promising if Trump becomes president “the change will be huge.” He said Trump would protect the sanctity of life, the Second Amendment, God-given liberties, and will ensure the nation’s next Supreme Court justices would be better for the country than those chosen by Clinton. (Here, unlike Trump, Pence left out references to America ending up like Venezuela.)
He ended by urging those in attendance to grab their friends and neighbors and, essentially, do what Blaha was doing to Klingenschmitt in that hallway after the speech.
On her way out of the hotel following the event, Bobbie Montague, who lives in the area and was clutching a Trump-Pence sign, said she didn’t know a whole lot about Pence before Trump brought him into the national spotlight.
“I think he’ll make a wonderful kind of counter for Donald,” she said.
Asked what kind of counter Pence might offer to Trump, she said, “A moderation of verbs, nouns— and adjectives.”
As with Trump events, reporters are directed to remain inside a gated-off section of the room while Pence speaks and are not allowed to interact with the crowd until the speech is over.
Manning the press pen was a friendly older local campaign volunteer named Quinton Hanson. Hanson said Trump wasn’t his first, second or third choice for president. But it was easy enough to get behind the party’s nominee even if at times he doesn’t like the things that come out of the candidate’s mouth, he said.
For Hanson — big smile, blue short-sleeved dress shirt, tie tucked into his pants and a red Make America Great Again cap— the November election is all about beating Hillary Clinton. That said, Trump’s anti-media message seems to have trickled down. Hanson said he believes Trump was only kidding on Friday when he ripped the Colorado Springs fire marshal during a speech on a college campus, and that the media took Trump’s remarks out of context.
But Trump was the first choice for Frank Alvis, 71, a retired grocery store meat cutter and former Democrat who says he voted for President Barack Obama in Colorado but doesn’t feel as though the candidate he voted for stood up for the middle class as president.
What does Alvis like about Trump? He’s an outsider who speaks to the common man, will support veterans and take care of coal miners, he said.
“He goes off color every now and then, but that’s why we love him. He’s down to our level. He’s working for the people, supporting the people.”
Is there anything Trump could say at this point that would turn this former Democrat off?
“He can’t say anything negative that could turn me against him,” Alvis said. “Nothing. Not at all, sir. There’s nothing he could say at this point. He’s gotten this far.”
Instead, Alvis said he finds Trump’s bombastic remarks encouraging, even the ones he recently made about an American Muslim family who lost a son in the Iraq war in 2004.
“That was sad,” said Alvis, a veteran himself. “I think Clinton set him up.”
He, too, hadn’t heard of Pence before Trump chose him as a running mate.
Back in the hotel hallway after Pence’s speech, Patrick Davis, Trump’s Colorado state director, explained why Trump and Pence were in Colorado Springs within days of each other.
“The path to the White House leads through El Paso County and Colorado Springs for any Republican,” he said. “To win Colorado, you have to win Colorado Springs. If you aren’t racking up those votes in El Paso County and Colorado Springs to counter what comes out of Denver and Boulder, you’re probably not going to win.”