HERMON — Vice President Mike Pence told a crowd Monday that “the road to victory runs right through northern Maine” as he stumped in the Bangor area in support of President Trump’s re-election.

Speaking to a crowd of several hundred people gathered in a Hermon truck yard, Pence urged voters to “go get it done” with just 15 days remaining before Election Day. Supporters in the fired-up crowd – many of whom were decked out in Trump gear but not face masks, despite health guidelines for larger outdoor gatherings – responded with several chants of “Four more years” during the speech.

“The motto of the state of Maine is ‘I lead,’ ” Pence said in reference to the Latin “Dirigo” that adorns the state flag and seal. “And in this bicentennial year of the Pine Tree State, we need northern Maine to lead. We need northern Maine to lead us to a future, a future of freedom, a future of patriotism, a future honoring everything that the American flag stands for and always will.”

Vice President Mike Pence fist-bumps Dale Crafts, who is running for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District seat, after Crafts spoke during the opening of Pence’s rally at Dysarts in Hermon on Monday. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Pence’s brief swing through Hermon was the first official campaign visit by the president or vice president to Maine this year, although Trump toured a swab manufacturing facility in Guilford this summer. The visit was aimed at boosting the president’s support in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District in hopes of repeating his 2016 performance, when he captured one of the state’s four Electoral College votes by winning the district.

The vice president hit all of the campaign’s major talking points: How an additional Trump term would bring economic revival, law and order, a stronger country and military, and protections of religious freedoms. He fired up the conservative crowd by talking about abortion, the Second Amendment and the president’s successes at filling federal judicial seats.

He also called Democratic nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden “a Trojan horse for the radical left” and warned the crowd about a slide toward socialism.

But Pence waited until the tail end of his speech to discuss one of the defining issues of the 2020 elections and a major vulnerability for Trump: his administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 215,000 Americans. And even then, Pence claimed Trump “saved untold American lives and bought us time to stand up the greatest national mobilization since World War II.”

The presidential campaign is culminating at a time when many states across the country are experiencing surges in coronavirus infections and rising deaths. But Pence did not mention those trends or the gridlock between the White House and congressional Democrats and Republicans over an additional coronavirus relief package.

While some in the crowd wore face masks, which public health officials say is key to limiting the spread of COVID-19, many did not despite standing close to each other while cheering enthusiastically. The crowd also far exceeded the state’s 100-person limit for large outdoor gatherings.

Not long after Pence finished speaking, the Biden campaign seized on the economic and health toll the coronavirus has taken on the country.

“For four years, President Trump and Vice President Pence have failed to lead the American people with honesty, integrity, or responsibility – and Mainers have paid the price,” campaign spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield said in a statement. “As head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Vice President Pence’s insistence on placing conspiratorial whims ahead of the health and safety of the American people has led to the greatest failure of any presidential administration in history and has cost thousands of Mainers their lives, jobs, and wages.”

Polls suggest that Maine as a whole is not at play in the presidential race, with most showing Biden enjoying a comfortable double-digit lead over Trump. But Maine is one of only two states that can split its Electoral College votes based on outcomes in each congressional district. And Trump became the first presidential candidate in state history to force a split by winning 2nd Congressional District.

Speaking in front of a loaded-up logging truck adorned with with a giant “Make America Great Again” banner, Pence urged northern Maine voters to back the president as well as Republican Dale Crafts, who is running for the 2nd District seat. Pence said a Crafts victory over first-term Democratic incumbent Rep. Jared Golden is key to winning back the House of Representatives.

Taking back the House appears to be a tall order for Republicans this year, so much of the national party’s attention has focused on retaining control of the U.S. Senate. And yet despite urging support for Crafts several times, Pence never mentioned Republican Sen. Susan Collins, whose seat could be key to Republicans keeping the Senate.

Collins, who is trailing in the polls and being significantly outspent by Democratic challenger Sara Gideon, did not support Trump in 2016 but has refused to say whether she is backing his re-election bid. And last week, the president attacked Collins on Twitter for her decision not to support U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

But former Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican who has been critical of Collins in the past, urged attendees to support Republicans up and down the ticket.

“It is not over for her,” LePage said in remarks before Pence arrived. “We need the Senate to help President Trump run the country.”

Pence accused Biden – a moderate Democrat from a blue-collar background – and Democrats of wanting to “shut down” the economy while using the word “socialism” over and over again to try to paint the opposing party as dangerous to American ideals.

That stark language is unlikely to play well in Maine’s more left-leaning 1st District, in some of the larger towns in the 2nd District or among many moderate independent voters in both districts. But it clearly resonated with Monday’s crowd.

Mike Conway and Nancy Ganem-Bond drove several hours north from their homes in rural York County to see the vice president.

I honestly believe that we are going to carry the 2nd District and I think we are going to have a dogfight in the 1st,” said Conway, of Acton.

Wearing a shirt declaring “God, Guns & Trump,” Ganem-Bond said Pence hit many of the issues that are important to her, such as the economy, law and order, national security and jobs. And both gave the administration high marks for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a campaign rally Monday at Dysarts in Hermon. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

“We know President Trump will put America first,” Ganem-Bond said.

Sharon Townley of Holden said she has seen support for the president grow among people in her circle because of his focus on abortion. Traveling to the rally from nearby Holden with her two daughters and others from Brewer Christian Academy, Townley said she felt that Pence spent more time talking about what the administration would do next than attacking others.

“We were really thrilled with the turnout and thrilled that he would come to Maine,” Townley said.

“I loved it,” added daughter Tavia Townley, 18. As she spoke, Townley carried the cap from her college graduation gown from Liberty University – an evangelical university in Virginia where Pence delivered the 2019 commencement address – with a fresh signature from the vice president.

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