LEETONIA, Ohio (WKBN) – On Wednesday, Donald Trump’s running mate Mike Pence took part in a campaign rally in Leetonia, and the small town was ready for the national spotlight.
Pence’s motorcade arrived at Leetonia High School around 5:45 p.m.
He started his speech just a few minutes after 6 p.m. by saying he was glad to be in Leetonia, showing his support for the school with a “Go Bears!”
Pence called Trump “a doer in a game usually reserved for talkers.” He then talked about the Clintons, saying they have money coming in through speaking fees and the Clinton Foundation.
He said that’s the type of “pay to play politics” Americans are sick of, and that it will end if Trump is elected. Pence said Trump’s only special interest is the American people.
His favorite quality of the Republican presidential candidate is that he “just gets it.” Pence went on to say that Trump has never forgotten the people who work for the country, naming labor workers and law enforcement.
He said the campaign is proud to be endorsed by the largest police union in America, and promised that Trump will stand with law enforcement to “restore law and order.”
When discussing the economy, Pence said Clinton claims that where the country is right now is “the best we can do.”
“People in Ohio know different, don’t they?” he said to the crowd, telling them that Trump will get the economy moving again for Ohioans and the entire country.
Pence made a point to bring up the coal industry, saying the GOP ticket will “end the war on coal.”
He also talked about foreign policy, claiming Hillary Clinton’s tactics will be weak and Trump will stand strong against America’s enemies.
One theme of the speech that resonated with many in the audience was strengthening America’s armed forces.
“We will rebuild our military, we will stand with our allies, we will stand up to our enemies and we will hunt down and destroy ISIS and any organization that threatens our people,” Pence said.
Marine Staff Sergeant Harvey Galbreath appreciated the vice presidential candidate’s visit.
“Mike Pence coming out here and speaking to us like this, they’re telling us, ‘We’re here for you. We’re going to back you up,'” he said.
Galbreath says he’s hearing a different message from the Republican ticket than he’s heard from the current commander-in-chief.
“We have absolutely, positively no influence across the world, even in our own backyard anymore,” he said. “What I’m hearing is the next President of the United States, which is going to be Donald J. Trump, and vice president, which is going to be Mike Pence, they are fighting for me.”
Pence ended the rally by thanking the crowd of about 500 for showing up. He called himself a “B-list Republican celebrity” and said he is always moved when people come to his events.
The audience responded by chanting “Pence” to show their support.
Pence left them with a challenge: to spread a message of unity in a country that is divided on so many issues.
“Donald Trump and I believe there will always be more that unites us in these United States than will ever divide the people of this great nation.”
Those leaving Pence’s speech Wednesday night liked what they heard.
“I thought he did a great job. Very inspiring, very inspiring,” said Arnett Baker, of Salineville.
Jim Adams came all the way from Mars, Pennsylvania for Pence’s speech.
“Everywhere I go in western PA, I see Trump signs and very few Hillary signs,” he said.
Some signs are made by the campaign and some are made by fans.
“We just started with 100 “Hillary for Prison” signs and 100 “Trump” signs, and it’s grown into something very big now,” said Christina Stroup, of Coitsville. “We’ve went through thousands upon thousands of signs.”
Other supporters wearing Trump apparel are practically walking billboards for the campaign.
“I truly believe that Trump is the leader that our country needs,” said Mary Wagner, of McMurray, Pennsylvania.
Throughout the entire address, Pence mentioned Ohio several times. He said the state plays an “outsized role in our nation’s destiny.”
The demographics of Columbiana County, specifically, work well for the Republican candidate. The geography works well too, being close to Youngstown and Warren and just across the border from Pennsylvania.
Leetonia was happy to be the center of attention.
The stage in the gym was already set up Tuesday afternoon. There were signs outside to remind parents to be on time Wednesday.
Young art students added color to a pair of signs Tuesday that welcomed Pence to Leetonia. One read, “Leetonia, Ohio” and the other said, “Welcome to Leetonia.” They were painted in art class by Melanie Dolak’s students.
“I thought I would do it with my older students. Sixth graders, that’s the oldest children I have, and I thought they would best understand it,” Dolak said.
The band and cheerleaders were also a part of Wednesday night’s rally.
“This is not a school-sponsored event. This is an event that they rented our facility,” said Principal Troy Radinsky. “We feel it’s a good opportunity for our community to get educated on this candidate, but we’d open the doors to any candidate.”
Secret Service started securing the building after school let out for the day.
“They were very cooperative and said right from the beginning they didn’t want this to be a disruption to the school day,” Radinsky said.
The students may be too young to vote, but they’re old enough to learn why this is so important.
“Our students deserve an opportunity to be part of the process and, being in a rural community, those opportunities don’t come around too often,” said Superintendent Rob Mehno.
Radinsky agrees that something like this happening in Leetonia is rare.
“We’re using it as an educational tool, an educational opportunity,” he said.
It’s a community effort, too. Pence was overshadowed by Trump at the Canfield Fair, but his solo visit to Leetonia drew the most buzz in that part of Columbiana County in over 50 years.
“I’ve been around Columbiana County a long time and they talk about how their brothers, and sisters, and parents remember when John F. Kennedy came to Salem,” Mehno said.
There were no protesters outside of the political rally Wednesday night, something that’s usually a given for any campaign event. Perhaps that’s proof that the county really is Trump-Pence country.
Before heading to Leetonia, Pence stopped for lunch at Jib Jab Hot Dog Shoppe in Girard. He ordered a hot dog with chili sauce, and shared fries with his wife. He also took some time to mingle with customers and employees, and pose for pictures.
Pence will be in Pennsylvania Thursday, then head to his home state of Indiana on Friday.