Two speeches, two audiences, same Pence pitch to blue-collar voters

Gallup: With big base turnout, approval below 50 percent in key states ‘may be enough’

Vice President Mike Pence arrives at the Capitol. In speeches this week, he has talked up blue-collar economic data. Those voters again will be key in the 2020 presidential race. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Vice President Mike Pence arrives at the Capitol. In speeches this week, he has talked up blue-collar economic data. Those voters again will be key in the 2020 presidential race. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted March 6, 2019 at 3:34pm

Vice President Mike Pence hit many of the same notes Tuesday and Wednesday, though his speeches were calibrated for different audiences: manufacturing bigwigs one day and Latino business honchos the next. Both days he had a message for a voting bloc key to deciding if he and President Donald Trump win a second term.

Pence spoke Wednesday to the Latino Coalition’s annual legislative summit at the Park Hyatt hotel in Washington, driving home the need for “a legal immigration system that works, that’s built on opportunity for all and on merit — and that all begins with border security.” He also spoke about the administration’s contention that Latino unemployment rates are at an all-time low, while calling Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro “a dictator with no legitimate claim to power.”

“Nicolas Maduro must go,” Pence said to applause in his signature staccato cadence, in which each word is emphasized.

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A day earlier, Pence devoted a healthy portion of his speech — which boasts about the health of the economy, warns about a “crisis” at the southern border and declares he and Trump are keeping their 2016 campaign promises — to touting the administration’s efforts to cut federal regulations.

“That’s why President Trump promised on the campaign trail, and every day since, to roll back the heavy hand of government,” he said after citing National Association of Manufacturers data that “federal red tape costs manufacturing businesses an astounding $19,500 per employee per year.”

“This president has signed more bills cutting federal red tape than any president in American history,” Pence said. “And since our election, we’ve actually delivered more than $33 billion in regulatory savings for working families and business owners.”

There were several sections that made it into both speeches. One, however, stood out for its implications for who occupies the White House come 2021.

“Unemployment has hit a 50-year low,” Pence said Wednesday. “Wages for American workers are rising at a faster pace than they have in nearly a decade, and they’re growing fastest for the blue-collar workers who are the backbone of the American economy.”

They’re also one of the pillars of the Trump 2016 coalition, helping him win states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan — the latter two previously considered part of the Democrats’ Midwestern “blue wall.”

Gallup polling data both underscores that point and suggests Trump remains popular among these voters, even as several potential Democratic candidates who are seen as ideal to winning them back are mulling White House bids.

Among whites without a college degree in Michigan and Pennsylvania, Trump’s approval rating was 54 percent in 2018, according to Gallup data provided to The Atlantic. In Wisconsin, it was at 50 percent. But in a possible opening for potential Democratic candidates like Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and former Vice President Joe Biden, those approval numbers are lower than Trump’s national average, 57 percent, among blue-collar whites.

Democratic lawmakers — echoed by political strategists on each side of the spectrum — have said Trump appears to make many decisions through the lens of how his base of supporters will react.

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“The only way Trump survives is through the base,” GOP strategist Evan Siegfried said this week.

Might 2020 campaign messages to blue-collar workers like the one the vice president has been sending this week work again for Pence and his boss?

“What people still don’t get — somehow, even after all this time — is there is still a big section of the population who feel like Republicans and Democrats just don’t care about them at all,” Siegfried said. “They see Donald Trump as a big middle finger to the system. He’s still their way of saying ‘F— you’ to Washington.”

Gallup noted Trump’s overall approval ratings in many of the aforementioned states remains lower than 50 percent. That’s a big reason why he and Pence talk up the blue-collar economic figures.

“To the extent Republican voters in the key states participate at higher rates than Democratic voters, a Trump job approval rating in the mid- to high 40s may be enough to allow him to win those states,” Gallup wrote in an analysis of its 2018 polling data, which included interviews with 73,000 adults.

That’s why Pence is unlikely to drop the blue-collar pitch from his speeches anytime soon, even amid forecasts that a major slowdown — or even a recession — is likely before voters head to the polls in around 19 months.

“Everywhere you look, confidence is back — jobs are coming back,” the VP said Wednesday. “In a word, America is back — and we’re just getting started.”