CLEARWATER, Florida — Halfway through Mike Pence’s speech on Halloween night, the lights went out.
Donald Trump supporters regularly shout, “Drain the swamp!”—referring to corruption in Washington, D.C.—but found themselves in the swamp-like darkness Monday night when the vice-presidential nominee’s venue lost power. They may have found themselves in the spookiest Halloween political rally of all time: like a haunted house at the local youth center.
In the stifling hot airplane hangar where Pence was delivering his speech, confusion reigned. The power was out completely. No lighting, no sound. Conspiracy theories proliferated quickly.
“I think Hillary pulled that shit, to tell you the truth,” said George Luttrell, a 78-year-old native Floridian and diehard Trump fan, after the ordeal.
Undaunted by the disruption, the Republican vice-presidential nominee went off stage and fetched a bullhorn. Someone shone a flashlight up to him from below, giving him a ghoulish look, much like one would tell a summer camp horror story. But Pence backers weren’t afraid of the outage, regardless of the cause—whether it be a Clinton operative or a ghost.
“It wasn’t spooky to me,” said Luttrell, who works as a general contractor. “I’ve been in a lot of situations where there have been power failures in buildings… But it scared some of those little kids, I’m quite sure.”
“I didn’t get spooked,” insisted 73-year-old Penny Jones, a resident of Clearwater.
Eventually order was restored, and Pence yelled out “Hello, Florida!” to raucous applause, when his microphone came back on, adding: “Thanks for coming out in the dark. I know I’m not the main event.”
Even when the power was switched back on, Pence was determined to stick with the Halloween theme of the night, touching briefly on his near-death experience when his airplane skidded off the runway earlier this week.
“I’m here, with the lights on, the lights off, the bullhorn, the flashlights because I’m here for this team. I’m here for this movement, I’m here for this cause, to Make America Great Again!” Pence said.
Pence also gave portions of his traditional stump speech in Clearwater, a critical town in a critical county of perhaps the nation’s most important swing state. And he delivered it with a rhetorical fervor not unlike that of Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, tossing red meat into the crowd, hitting Clinton on her approach to ISIS, Benghazi, and rising health-care costs under Obamacare.
Pence also stressed to Republicans in the audience that it was “time to come home,” perhaps signaling that Republican strategists are worried they are not getting their traditional base turned out to vote, especially typically Republican voters who are turned off by Trump.
“Specifically today, my fellow Republicans who are with us, let me just say this: In the days between now and the close of the polls, I think now is the time for us to reach out to all of our Republican and conservative friends, and say with one voice, ‘It’s time to come home,’” said Pence, known for being a conservative governor of Indiana.
Hundreds of families skipped their opportunity to trick-or-treat in this Tampa Bay-area community to attend Pence’s speech, giving the rally a quirky dress code. A young swashbuckling pirate ran through the crowd with a long, curved plastic sword, along with a yellow-haired clown, a woman dressed as a pumpkin, and a witch. The mood was jubilant: People waved American or Gadsden flags, while one GOPer aimed for laughs with a sign that read: “Weiner is my hero!”
If attendees had not arrived with a costume, there was a marketplace outside selling merchandise, with a variety rivaling that available during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
One vendor walked along the lineup outside the venue, on the outskirts of the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, selling Hillary Clinton targets—which could be used for target practice, or even easily slipped on as a mask.
“Killary targets!” the seller cried. “Chipping away at gun rights since 1993! Good for the dartboard, better with guns!”
Others opted for a more familiar Trump-style attire: Hundreds of red Make America Great Again baseball caps dotted throughout the crowd; while more still wore “Deplorable Me” T-shirts, a play between the movie Despicable Me and Clinton’s claim that many Trump supporters were “deplorable.”
A poetic Pence quoted Robert Frost, declaring that there were “miles to go before we sleep” after the election, and ended his appearance by throwing candy to children in the crowd from pumpkin-shape containers.
But for all the joyous candy-gathering in the rally, the assembled Republicans in the room will only know if this campaign—the most divisive in modern memory—was a trick or treat in a week.