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Mike Pence is the anti-Trump on the trail, just the way the campaign wants it

Mike Pence
Mike Pence campaigns in Grand Rapids, Mich.
(Associated Press)

Mike Pence looked out at a few hundred supporters gathered in a county expo center here to see his first solo appearance as the GOP vice presidential nominee, and made a self-deprecating joke.

“I recognize I’m kind of a B-list Republican celebrity, so thank you for coming out tonight,” the Indiana governor said to warm applause, adding that he was “humbled” and “honored.”

The contrast with the rallies of running mate Donald Trump, who attracts thousands who wait in line for hours, then fill event spaces and overflow rooms with crackling energy, was stark.

But Pence wasn’t picked to amplify the attraction of Trump, the former reality television star. Instead, as he showcased in stops this week here in Wisconsin and in Ohio and Michigan, he was brought aboard the Republican ticket to employ his steady demeanor and conservative bona fides to reassure hard-right voters who remain wary of Trump.

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“I’m a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order,” Pence said in Waukesha, Wis.

The men are a study of contrasts on the stump. At rallies in recent days, Pence consulted notes and stuck with talking points about Trump’s policy proposals and Clinton’s record rather than riff spontaneously, as Trump tends to do. And Pence embraced the vice presidential nominee’s traditional role as the cheerleader and defender of the top of the ticket, whom he refers to as “Mr. Trump,” “this good man,” and “my boss.”

“Our nominee and my new boss has tapped into the aspirations and frustrations of the American people like no one else in my lifetime since our 40th president, Ronald Reagan,” Pence told hundreds of supporters in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Thursday. “To be around Donald Trump is to be around a man with broad shoulders, who speaks his mind, who doesn’t tip-toe around the thousands of rules of political correctness. He speaks from his heart and he understands the American people.”

Trump, who refers to Pence as “Mike,” noted their differing approaches as they campaigned together in Roanoke, Va., this week. He questioned why Hillary Clinton stopped using Rodham, her maiden name, before suggesting that it sounded similar to “rotten.”

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“Hillary ‘Rotten’ Clinton. Maybe that’s why. It’s too close. It’s too close,” Trump said. “You think Mike Pence would say this? I don’t think so. By the way, did I do a good job with Mike Pence?”

Pence, meanwhile, told a radio host Friday that he doesn’t think “name-calling has any place in public life.”

Trump could learn from Pence, an evangelical Christian who served in Congress before he was elected governor, said Tina Cheriton, 62, of Muskego. She attended the rally in Waukesha, situated in a county where 61% of GOP voters supported Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the primary, while only 22% backed Trump.

We’ll see Roe vs. Wade consigned to the ash heap of history where it belongs.
Gov. Mike Pence

“He’s calmer than Donald, and I think he has experience on the inside so he know what goes on in the inside more than Donald would,” said Cheriton, a retired designer who voted for Cruz in the primary, turned off by Trump’s attacks on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

“Trump needs to be quiet and read off the prompter.”

Bob Cook, a disabled veteran from McFarland, said of Pence, “He’s a good complement to Trump. He brings a little more stability to the ticket.”

Pence has remained unabashed about his views even at a time when campaigns typically try to broaden their appeal beyond base voters.

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On Thursday, he predicted that Roe vs. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion, would be overturned if Trump is elected president.

“I’m pro-life and I don’t apologize for it,” he said during the Grand Rapids town hall. “We’ll see Roe vs. Wade consigned to the ash heap of history where it belongs.”

The comments — made in another conservative stronghold that supported Cruz over Trump in the Michigan primary — were part of a broader argument Pence has been making on the stakes of the election.

“While we’re choosing a president for the next four years, this next president will make decisions that will impact our Supreme Court for the next 40,” he said. “Go tell your neighbors and your friends, for the sake of the rule of law, for the sake of sanctity of life, for the sake of our 2nd Amendment, for the sake of all our other God-given liberties, we must ensure the next president appointing justices to the Supreme Court is Donald Trump.”

Such statements resonate with Bob Burt, a Grand Rapids retiree, and other voters who want to believe Trump’s relatively recent conversion to conservatism but are uncertain.

Pence, Burt said, has long been aligned “with the principles I am looking for – conservatism with common sense. He balances [Trump] out on both temperament and some of the policy.”

Such reassurance is the aim for Republicans whose prime focus is denying Clinton the White House.

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Wisconsin Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a conservative stalwart who was among the GOP leaders introducing Pence in Waukesha, said as much, noting he had known Pence for nearly three decades.

“I can tell all of you without equivocation that [he] has always been on the right side of all the issues,” he said. “This is the message we have to get out to the people who may have some doubts about whether the conservative agenda will be advanced in this election.”

seema.mehta@latimes.com

For the latest on national and California politics, follow @LATSeema on Twitter.

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