Vice President Mike Pence rallied several hundred fellow Republican conservatives Friday in hopes of pushing Senate candidate Josh Hawley in Missouri and governor candidate Kris Kobach in Kansas to narrow victories in states that President Donald Trump won handily two years ago.
Pence and other speakers highlighted low national unemployment and said the United States is stronger economically and militarily under Trump's leadership, as several others suggested that a Democrat-controlled Congress would seek to impeach Trump. They also portrayed Democrats as unwilling to fight illegal immigration, with Kobach saying that Democrats suffered from "open borders psychosis."
The rally came on the day the U.S. government released figures for October showing strong job growth, higher wages and low unemployment.
Hawley, the Missouri attorney general, has wedded himself to Trump and the president's agenda in trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, one of the nation's most vulnerable Senate incumbents this year. Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, is Trump's closest ally in his state and is in toss-up race with veteran Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly.
The rally at a Kansas City, Missouri arena was sponsored by the American Conservative Union and the Family Research Council. It also was designed to boost congressional candidates, especially in Kansas, where Democrats hope to oust Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder in the Kansas City-area and flip another seat in eastern Kansas held by retiring Rep. Lynn Jenkins.
"You look around this country and you can just feel it, can't you? Confidence is back. Jobs are coming back. In a word: America is back," Pence said. Later, he added, "Really, it's a choice between resistance and results, and just like two years ago, we need Missouri and Kansas to vote for results."
Touching on an issue that fires up conservatives, Hawley and other speakers criticized McCaskill for voting against the confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. His confirmation was nearly derailed when California college professor Christine Blasey Ford alleged that Kavanaugh assaulted her when they were both teenagers, which he strongly denied.
Hawley called McCaskill "part of the smear campaign" against Kavanaugh, though the Missouri senator does not serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee and cited reasons other than Blasey Ford's allegations in voting against him.
The issue resonates with Shauna Hasek, a 40-year-old social worker and Republican whose husband is the mayor of Harrisonville, Missouri. She wore elephant earrings and a shirt with a quote attributed to Ronald Reagan: "Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid." Laughing, she said, "So I should say, Claire is powerless if Josh is not afraid."
She called McCaskill's vote against Kavanaugh "a big deal" as she waited in line to get into the arena.
"As a woman, yes, I support women and their movement, if something really did happen to them, but you also, again, have to have evidence," Hasek said.
Immigration also was on the minds of rally participants. The crowd chanted "Build the Wall!" at one point in reference to Trump's proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Kobach has built a national profile as an advocate of tough immigration laws, has advised Trump's campaign and the White House on homeland security issues and has made enacting state policies against illegal immigration a cornerstone of his campaign for governor. He drew noticeably louder applause and cheers at the rally than Hawley.
"The Democrats, I've said, are in the third stage of open borders psychosis," Kobach said. "They're not content to cheer for the illegal aliens already here. They're cheering for more illegal aliens to come into the country."
Kelly has said combatting illegal immigration requires comprehensive legislation from Congress and contends Kobach's policies would hurt the state's agricultural economy, particularly in western Kansas. But Kobach has ramped up his focus on immigration at the end of his campaign, expressing his concern about a caravan of several thousand migrants moving slowly through Mexico.
So has Trump, and in his rally speech, Pence called the caravan "nothing more than an assault on our country" and suggested that it had been organized by "leftist groups" in Central America, as well as human traffickers.
The rally opened with prayers in remembrance of the 11 people gunned down at a Pittsburgh synagogue last week, the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history. Pence called the attack "unspeakable," adding, "It was evil."