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Pence Rallies Soggy Tallahassee Crowd Behind Amy Coney Barrett, Makes Bold Vaccine Claim

Election 2020 Florida
Steve Cannon/AP
FR127919 AP
Vice President Mike Pence speaks to supporters Saturday Oct. 24, 2020 in Tallahassee, Fla. Battleground Florida was again a central focus of the presidential campaign Saturday as President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and former President Barack Obama all had high-profile events in the state. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)

A crowd of roughly 550 people, many donning ponchos and raincoats, braved hours of persistent rain to see the vice president speak. Pence deplaned Air Force 2 roughly an hour after the event was scheduled to start, and just minutes after the drizzly conditions subsided.

Republican state representatives Jason Shoaf and Alex Andrade warmed up the crowd ahead of Pence landing. North Florida Congressman Neal Dunn followed, telling the crowd the Trump administration would “defend, not defund” police if given four more years.

Talking up the Trump administration’s COVID-19 response, which has seen more than 220,000 American deaths from the disease, Pence told the Tallahassee crowd to expect mass production and distribution of an as-yet non-existent vaccine before the year is out.

“Under Operation Warp Speed, we literally will have tens of millions of doses of the first coronavirus vaccine in the world, before the end of this year,” the vice president told the crowd, eliciting hearty applause.

The statement on a COVID-19 vaccine was Pence making a promise out of something U.S. Health and Human Services director Alex Azar said is “highly credible” in a recent op-ed.

Pence’s Tallahassee stop also comes amid reports that the vice president’s chief of staff, Marc Short, has tested positive for COVID-19.

Ryan Dailey
As the rain subsided Saturday evening, hundreds of supporters waited to hear Vice President Mike Pence speak.

Speaking in deep-blue Leon County, in the otherwise Republican stronghold of the Florida Panhandle, Pence appealed to the region’s strong military presence, saying the Trump administration will give the armed forces financial support.

“Four years ago we inherited a military that was hollowed out by devastating budget cuts,” Pence said, an obvious barb at former president Barack Obama and then-Vice President Joe Biden, who is challenging President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election.

Some of the biggest applause from the crowd came when Pence mentioned the upcoming Senate vote on Federal Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.

“I’ll make you a prediction: Come this Monday night, Judge Amy Coney Barrett is going to be Justice Amy Coney Barrett. We’re going to fill that seat,” Pence said, going on to criticize Biden, claiming Biden intends to “pack the court.”

Pence also lauded the performance of Florida’s governor, who wasn’t in attendance.

“The President and I couldn’t be more proud and more grateful for the strong and compassionate leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis,” he said.

Ryan Dailey
Supporters of Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump waited hours in the rain to hear Pence speak Saturday, October 25, 2020.

Yet, Pence’s commentary on DeSantis' job performance stuck a decidedly different tone from Trump, who after sharing a stage with DeSantis in The Villages this week told the governor and crowd: “If we don’t win, I’ll never speak to him again.”

Tyler DuRant was first in line to see Pence, showing up around 3 p.m., more than four hours before the vice president took the stage.

“To show my support for the vice president and president; everything he’s done and hopefully will still accomplish,” DuRant said, adding he was excited to bring his young son along.

DuRant said he wanted to hear more from Pence about “healthcare, and the pandemic going on, to see if there’s going to be a [vaccine.]”

Not everyone was so keen to hear what Pence had to say in the Capital City. Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, ripped the vice president and Trump’s record in Florida ahead of his visit to the Sunshine State.

“On the debate stage this week, President Trump said the virus was in decline in Florida, but this week, cases are once again rising. Floridians are living through the ongoing failures of the Trump-Pence administration,” Bedingfield said in a statement. “The Trump-Pence legacy for Floridians includes over 16,000 lives lost as a result of the coronavirus, more than one in five Florida small businesses have been forced to shutter their doors and may never reopen, and over 539,000 jobs lost this year alone.”

Several local officials, including Tallahassee commissioners Jeremy Matlow and Curtis Richardson, also held an event criticizing Pence on Saturday, ahead of his campaign stop.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.