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For a lifelong midwesterner, Vice President Mike Pence has quite a few Arizona ties.
Some, like his son’s ongoing military service in Yuma, are personal. Others, like the overseas trips he took with the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, are professional. And some are a bit of both, like his working relationship-turned-friendship with Gov. Doug Ducey.
“I’m telling you what,” the vice president told a West Valley crowd in mid-September: “The Pence family loves Arizona!”
Pence will return to the Phoenix area Thursday to host a rally at a tactical-gear supply business in Peoria as Arizona continues its countdown to the Nov. 3 presidential election.
Ahead of his visit, here’s a closer look at Pence’s connections to this crucial swing state.
1. ‘Bromance’ with Ducey
Gov. Ducey met Pence in Indiana in the early 2010s at an event with the state’s then-governor, Mitch Daniels. At the time, Pence was seen as the natural successor to Daniels, who was approaching the end of his term.
When Ducey launched his first campaign to become Arizona’s chief executive and found himself in a crowded, often heated primary, the newly minted Gov. Pence lent his support to Ducey’s candidacy.
Their relationship grew over the years, as the two men presided over their states and faced similar issues. They saw each other frequently at conferences and spoke over the phone about politics and their families, Ducey’s former chief of staff, Kirk Adams, told The Arizona Republic last year.
“Their two personalities, in my view, are very similar,” Adams said. “They just kind of click. They get each other.”
Indeed, Ducey appeared to more easily align with Pence’s more reserved style of governing, compared with the president’s approach, which took years for Ducey to embrace. Pence, in turn, has leaned on Ducey’s input, such as during the Senate’s deliberations leading up to the 2017 vote to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
Pence and Ducey still talk regularly, and Ducey typically greets the vice president at the airport when he visits Arizona.
2. Falling out with Flake
There is one Arizonan the vice president is less buddy-buddy with these days: former U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake.
Before Pence became vice president and Flake retired from the Senate, the two men were “ideological soulmates” who sometimes referred to each other as “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” according to a 2018 report in Politico Magazine.
But Pence’s decision to align himself with Trump threw a wrench into his friendship with Flake. When Pence accepted Trump’s invitation to be his running mate, Flake was shocked, according to the report: Pence “grew enamored of (Trump’s approach), accommodated it and ultimately embraced it” while Flake ”rejected and rebuked Trumpism with force.”
“The old allies aren’t exactly estranged,” the report said. “Pence gave Flake’s son a tour of the West Wing at the White House Christmas party, and back in June, Flake snapped a photo on his iPhone as their wives reunited at the White House picnic.
“But it’s nothing like their heyday in the House, when one man could always be found at the other’s side.”
3. Rocky but respectful relationship with McCain
Trump’s disdain toward the late U.S. Sen. John McCain is widely known. While Pence certainly had his frustrations with McCain over the years — particularly after he was unable to convince McCain to support Republicans’ best chance at repealing the Affordable Care Act — he never feuded with the senator the way the president did.
After McCain died of brain cancer in 2018, it was Pence, not Trump, who represented the Trump administration at his memorial in Washington, D.C.
“For 35 years, John served in these very halls, under this very dome, and he fought for what he believed in,” Pence said at the service. “In my years in Congress and as vice president, we didn’t always agree … and he almost always noticed. But his support for limited government, for tax reform and support for our armed forces surely left our nation more prosperous and more secure.”
Pence also shared a lighter anecdote from one of his overseas trips with McCain. The pair had just completed an 18-hour day in Iraq, and Pence was “literally falling asleep in the middle of a dinner with Iraqi officials,” he said.
“John, who was more than 20 years older than me, walked up, put his hand on my shoulder and said: ‘Mike, we’ve got a few more meetings tonight, but why don’t you turn in? You look like you could use some rest,'” Pence said.
“Thanks, John,” he deadpanned.
4. Military dad
After landing in Yuma in September, the vice president and Second Lady Karen Pence were greeted by their son, Michael Pence Jr., an active duty Marine pilot stationed there.
The senior Pence often shares photos of his son in uniform. But it seems Pence Jr. inherited his love of flying from his mother, whose father was an Air Force pilot and previously had a pilot’s license herself.
“When (Michael Jr.) takes the VP up in a plane, his dad is like ‘OK, OK, I’m ready, OK let’s go down,'” the second lady told CNN last year. “And I’m like ‘This is great! I’m having a ball!'”
5. The ‘road to victory’
The vice president clearly recognizes Arizona’s importance as a November battleground state.
Trump’s Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, has consistently led the president in most local and national polls in recent months, though that lead appears to be narrowing.
Pence’s Thursday visit will mark his fourth trip to Arizona in as many months, and it’s possible he could return again ahead of Nov. 3 — particularly given the president’s recent COVID-19 diagnosis.
While in Yuma last month, he told the crowd: “The road to victory runs right through Arizona.”
USA TODAY Network reporters Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Maureen Groppe contributed to this article.
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