Pence reassures supporters at Rhode Island fundraiser

FILE - Indiana governor and vice presidential candidate Mike Pence speaks at a town hall in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Thursday, July 28, 2016. (WOOD Photo)
FILE - Indiana governor and vice presidential candidate Mike Pence speaks at a town hall in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Thursday, July 28, 2016. (WOOD Photo)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Indiana Gov. Mike Pence attended a Rhode Island fundraiser attended by supporters of the party’s presidential ticket. The cost to go to the event ran from $1,000 to $25,000.

Pence touched down at T.F. Green Airport early Saturday evening before heading to the closed-door donor event at the Bellevue Avenue estate, which was built for one of the doomed passengers on the Titanic. It’s now owned by former Goldman Sachs executive David B. Ford.

Rhode Island Republican Party Chairman Brandon Bell said the event was attended by about 75 people and brought in an estimated $500,000. He said Pence joked about his Democratic rival Tim Kaine and only briefly touched upon the video controversy.

“He looked me in the eye and he said, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to get through this, we’re going to be OK,’” Bell said. “So he didn’t address it head on, but he wanted to reassure people, the folks that were here – and I think he’s going to do this publicly in the next coming days – that we shouldn’t worry, that they’re still on a path to victory.”

Pence spent about two hours at the event before returning to T.F. Green to fly home. He did not answer questions from reporters.

The event followed an extraordinary 24 hours in American politics that saw a growing number of top Republicans, including U.S. Sen. John McCain, call on their nominee to quit the race just a month before the election, with some saying Pence should step in to replace him. But Trillo argued those officials were simply worried about their own political futures.

Among high-profile Rhode Island Republicans who previously backed Trump for the White House, none had formally withdrawn their support as of early Saturday evening. Two of them, Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, issued brief statements condemning Trump’s remarks but stopping short of saying they won’t vote for him.

“As someone who grew up politically working for reform with the likes of Claudine Schneider, Susan Farmer, and Lila Sapinsley, this video is truly offensive,” Avedisian said. “It definitely gives me pause and will require me to do some deep thinking.”

“Like many other Republicans I am deeply troubled by Donald Trump’s comments from 11 years ago,” Fung said. “However I strongly disagree with the path that Hillary Clinton would choose for our nation. My only focus right now is on my own reelection. I look forward to hearing from the presidential candidates on Sunday night.”

Former GOP state Sen. Dawson Hodgson, who co-chaired John Kasich’s Rhode Island campaign and refuses to support Trump, shot back: “What a disappointment.”

Bell, who said Friday night he was “disgusted” by the leaked Trump video, said he was “honored” and “excited” to introduce Pence at Saturday’s event in Newport, calling the Indiana governor “poised, energetic and confident.”

But former R.I. Democratic Party Chairman Bill Lynch criticized Bell and Republican National Committeeman Steven Frias, who is running against House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, for “standing by the man they voted for on the convention floor.”

“Shame on them,” Lynch said. “No woman should ever be described in such degrading terms nor treated with such profound disrespect.”

Frias responded: “Trump’s comments were obviously offensive but they are irrelevant to my state rep race.”

“What is also offensive and actually relevant to my race,” he continued, “is that Speaker Mattiello appointed Rep. John Carnevale to be House Finance [Committee] Vice Chair although Carnevale had been indicted for sexual assault, and had only evaded trial because of his victim’s death.”

State Rep. Joe Trillo, Rhode Island’s most high-profile Donald Trump supporter, similarly pushed back at critics by contrasting the nominee’s comments with the past behavior of his rival and her scandal-tarred husband. “Bill Clinton was accused of rape before he even got elected as president of the United States,” Trillo said. “Hillary Clinton was part of the coverup of that incident and many other incidents.”

Even if Trump dropped out of the race, his name will almost certainly be on the ballot in Rhode Island next month anyway. Ballots are already in the process of being printed and mail ballots are being sent to voters, according to Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea’s office.

Trump won Rhode Island’s April GOP primary with nearly 64% of the vote, taking every community but Barrington, as voter turnout spiked compared with recent years. At the time it was Trump’s best showing in any state.