WILLIAMSBURG — Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence told a rain-soaked crowd at the Colonial Capitol Tuesday evening that their willingness to brave bad weather to show their support for Donald Trump would carry their champion into the White House.
Pence stepped up to speak just as the on-again off-again rain suddenly started pouring,
"This is what we call a moist evening," Pence said. "Tonight we're showing the media and we're showing the world, this is a movement that is going to elect Donald Trump.
About 650 people braved rain to gather before the Capitol and cheer when Pence told them that Trump would build a wall on the Mexican border and bring law and order to American cities.
On Trump's first day in office "he is going to repeal every single Obama executive order, he is going to repeal Obamacare … and on day one, we're going to end the war on coal once and for all," Pence said. He did not say if Trump would wait for Congress, as the Constitution requires, to act first before repealing the Affordable care Act.
His voice at times drowned by rain and the heckling of a couple dozen protesters, Pence promised to boost the economy by cutting taxes and regulation.
"Hillary Clinton is all wet on the economy," he said.
Pence hit other key Trump campaign themes of rebuilding the military and taking tough stances against terrorism and on trade.
"If you want a president who believes in the rule of law, who believes in the sanctity of life, who believes in the Second Amendment … let's decide here and now that the next president to name somebody to the Supreme Court will be Donald Trump," he said.
The rain didn't deter Elizabeth Bralley, who drove down from Mechanicsville, 60 miles away.
"I've got an umbrella," she said.
She said she decided to support Trump before Virginia's March primary. Immigration and the presidential power to nominate Supreme Court justices were her big issues, she said.
"I like Pence, I think he's a very good governor," said Charles Erasmi, of Yorktown.
Trump, he added, "might not be my best friend," because of his brash manner. But Erasmi said he thinks Trump is smarter than many believe and that he'll make good decisions as president.
"For me, the issue is change," he said.
Pence's rally was a surprise for Chastity Overby, of Lufkin, Texas, who was visiting Williamsburg with her 13- and 11-year old sons and their 11-year-old cousin. As Trump backers, they decided to come by and show their support.
"I think the country needs change — it is headed in the wrong direction," she said.
About two dozen College of William and Mary students staged a hastily organized protest, sporting yellow-and-black signs calling Trump a "great divider."
"No hate, no fear, everyone is welcome here," they began chanting in unison about two-thirds through Pence's speech,
"We feel really strongly about this," said Jennifer Horowitz, a junior who is a member of the Vox Voices for Planned Parenthood.
State Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, who joined the protesters for a time, said Trump has been running a bigoted campaign, despite his recent retreat from his long-standing contention that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
"When people show you who they are, believe them the first time," she said.
Pence kicked off his swing through Hampton Roads Tuesday at a town hall in Norfolk with veterans, promising that he and Trump would clean house at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"It's a day one project," the Indiana governor told a group of two dozen veterans, gathered in a wardroom of the USS Wisconsin.
Pence, who emphasized Trump's veterans platform in his August visit to Norfolk and Virginia Beach, pushed back against criticism from the Clinton campaign that he and his running mate would privatize the VA.
"We are committed to fixing the VA, not privatizing," he said.
Pence said a key plank in Trump's veterans plan was to expand mental health care, and spoke of being shaken hearing of an Indiana National Guardsman who had committed suicide while on leave from service in Afghanistan during a trip to the movies with his two brothers.
"I know there are scars that never go away," he said.
Pence said Indiana's efforts to help veterans find jobs has brought its veteran unemployment rate to the second lowest in the nation.
In response to a question about transgender individuals in the military from Virginia Beach attorney Chuck Smith, who is seeking the GOP nomination for Virginia attorney general, Pence said maintaining unit cohesion would be top priority.
He did not give any details about what that meant as far as where and how transgender men and women would serve.
Pence said he and Trump were strong supporters of allowing National Guard members to carry guns while at Guard facilities.
He said that in the wake of last year's drive-by shooting at a Tennessee recruiting center, Indiana moved quickly to authorize members of its Guard to arm themselves while at armories or other Guard installations.
Quinn Nii, a Navy veteran from Washington, D.C., who asked about arming Guard members, said afterward that he was concerned about what he described as a trend of young Muslims attacking military facilities.
"We've got these millennial Muslims who come here to benefit from the values of our American culture and heritage, but who want to impose their ways," he said.
Lt. Col. Frederick Peterson, one of the veterans participating in the town hall, said he is concerned that the military is now run by careerists with a focus on social policy.
"We need to fight that Valley Forge once again," he said.
But one veteran who wasn't invited, retired Army Maj. Gen Wallace Arnold, said the Obama administration had made much progress boosting funding and improving services for veterans.
"We want to stick with the road we started on," he said.
Ress can be reached by phone at 757-247-4535.