Mike Pence visits Utah amid GOP division

Rick Bowmer
Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence speaks to the Utah Solutions Summit during his first visit to Utah since becoming Donald Trump’s running mate, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence visited Salt Lake City to speak at the Utah Solutions Summit prior to a campaign fundraiser in hopes of gaining support from Utah politicians.

Pence’s visit comes at a critical time for the presidential election in Utah, where the Trump-Pence campaign continues to struggle in a predominantly red state.

In a joint statement released Tuesday, a number of Utah GOP officials voiced their support for the Trump-Pence campaign. The signatures of Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and representative Mia Love (R-Utah) were notably absent. Neither Lee nor Love have publicly endorsed a presidential candidate.

“We believe that the policies Donald Trump and Mike Pence have put forward reflect the goals of the overwhelming majority of Utahns,” said the statement. “By contrast, Hillary Clinton’s long record and current agenda put her at odds with the values of Utah citizens and our public policy objectives.”

Lee said he invited Pence to speak at the Utah Solutions Summit to “talk about what (he has) done for higher education at the state level,” in a recent push-email. The invite has provoked people to question if Lee will endorse the Trump-Pence campaign in the future.

“Of course we are told it’s not an official campaign appearance, but when you bring Donald Trump’s running mate to our state and espouse his ideas as beneficial to our people, you are supporting ideals that Donald Trump supports,” Utah Democratic Party Chair Peter Corroon said in a press conference Wednesday.

BYU political science assistant professor Adam Brown said he doesn’t think Lee’s invitation to Pence signifies an impending endorsement.

“If he was planning to endorse today, then he would have signed that letter two days ago,” Brown said. “That being said, as a Republican official, he’s going to feel political pressure to show that he’s a team player.”

The lack of Utah GOP unity in endorsing the Trump-Pence campaign brings uncertainty about how this might affect the election this November.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign is attempting to capitalize on this uncertainty by sending out anti-Trump mailers to voters across Utah. Whether this will persuade Utah voters to vote for the Democratic Party’s candidates is unclear.

“Utah is a tough sell for Democrats, but this is the year they may find some support,” said Jeremy Pope, co-director of the BYU Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. “Even if that is a low probability, it is worth spending some money on. I suspect that Secretary Clinton probably has some room to take risks.”

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