Tulsans went to a Kevin Stitt rally on Thursday and a Donald Trump campaign event broke out.
Stitt, the Republican candidate for Oklahoma Governor, spoke to the crowd of several thousand only briefly before giving way to Vice President Mike Pence.
Pence, the former Indiana Governor, extolled Stitt’s virtues — he’s a businessman, he’s not a politician. He creates jobs and is used to signing checks on “the front and the back,” Pence joked, a nod towards Stitt’s role as Gateway Mortgage CEO.
It was almost impossible for Pence — or other well-known Republicans who spoke at the event such as Lt. Gov. candidate Matt Pinnell, congressional candidate Kevin Hern, or congressmen Markwayne Mullin, James Lankford and Jim Inhofe — to compliment Stitt without also complimenting Trump, their messages have become that closely aligned.
But that’s what the crowd wanted, and that’s what Stitt is banking on voters wanting next month when the election rolls around.
“I’m here for one reason,” Pence told the crowd. “Oklahoma and the nation needs Kevin Stitt to be the Governor of Oklahoma … Kevin Stitt is the kind of leader Oklahoma deserves in the governor’s office.”
Pence mostly talked about Trump during his 20-minute speech, sometimes veering into comparisons between the president and Stitt.
“Kevin Stitt reminds me a lot of someone I work with,” Pence joked. Trump’s policies, he told the crowd, are a “foreshadow of what’s to come with the leadership of Kevin Stitt.”
“What Trump has done in the White House, Stitt will do in the state house,” Pence said.
Pence’s demeanor resonated with the Oklahomans in attendance. He talked about prayer and its importance leading up to November’s election. He talked about how similar Indiana is to Oklahoma in some ways. He joked that had Stitt waited a few years until his six children were old enough to vote, he could have won the election “in a landslide.”
And he said that he liked Stitt enough that he would have come to stump for the mortgage company CEO even “if he was unopposed.”
“He’s just that good of a man,” Pence said.
But Stitt is not unopposed, and that was at least part of the reason a heavy hitter like Pence came to Green Country. While Oklahoma is a deeply red state, several Democratic legislators were surprisingly elected in the last 12 months, and the teacher walkout — and support among Democrats for those teachers — has the party energized in this state for the first time in a while.
All that gives Drew Edmondson a puncher’s chance to be the first viable Democratic candidate for Governor in quite a while, though polling still gives Stitt the advantage less than a month from election day.
Edmondson, Pence said, has more in tune with “California liberals” than he does with Oklahomans (Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti campaigned in Oklahoma for Edmondson earlier this month.)
Pence warned that Edmondson wants to raise taxes, which earned jeers from the crowd, and said the former state attorney general “loves Hillary Clinton,” a statement that began a brief “lock her up” chant from the crowd.
But most of the speech was about Trump. Pence praised the president — to an enthusiastic crowd — for cutting out “the core of Obamacare” by ending the individual mandate, for leaving the “disastrous” Paris Climate Accord, for lowering unemployment and for enacting a “new trade deal” with Mexico and Canada.
And he cautioned against letting the enthusiasm in the room keep Oklahoma conservatives complacent come Nov. 6.
“They talk about a blue wave,” Pence said to jeers, referencing the potential of “a wave” of Democratic candidates being elected next month.
“Let’s erect a red wall!”
Outside the Mabee Center, where the event was held, Stitt signs and gear were sparse. But trucks selling Trump gear were aplenty — including one selling a “TRUMP 2016 NO MORE BULLSHIT” flag, ironic wording given its placement on the highly religious Oral Roberts University campus.
It wasn’t just Stitt that had adopted Trump’s message and some of his verbiage. Pinnell, running for Lt. Governor against Anastasia Pittman, took the stage and thanked “all the deplorables” in the crowd, a nod to Hillary Clinton’s disastrous comment about Trump supporters leading up to the 2016 election.
Mullin and Hern each compared themselves to Trump as businessmen — Mullin ran Mullin Plumbing before being elected and Hern operates more than a dozen McDonald’s restaurants in the area. Lankford and Inhofe each stumped for Trump as well, with Inhofe in particular speaking highly of the President. Inhofe’s speech ended and the senior congressman had to fill about 10 minutes of dead time before Stitt and Pence were ready to appear on stage.