NASHVILLE - Speaking to thousands of Republicans in Music City on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence touted the Trump administration's accomplishments since taking office, extended a welcoming arm to Nashville's grieving mayor and praised the field of candidates in the 2018 gubernatorial race.
An estimated 2,000 people were on hand for the Tennessee Republican Party's annual fundraiser, which featured a nearly 30-minute speech by Pence.
After an introduction from Gov. Bill Haslam, Pence said he wanted to take a moment to honor Mayor Megan Barry, whose son, Max, died of an apparent drug overdose Saturday night.
"Allow me to take a moment, a personal moment, to express our deepest sympathy to your Mayor Megan Barry," he said. "I know I speak for everyone gathered here at this state Republican Party and all across Tennessee when I say Mayor Barry, her husband and her family and her friends will be in our prayers.”
Kicking off his speech, Pence thanked the state's Republicans for helping secure a win in last year's presidential election.
“With your support here in Tennessee, President Donald Trump turned the blue wall red,” Pence said, noting that 92 of the state's 95 counties voted for the president. "The Clinton campaign didn’t know what hit them in the Volunteer State.”
He thanked the state's congressional delegation, calling U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker "extraordinary" while also naming every GOP congressman.
After mentioning U.S. Rep. Diane Black, who on Wednesday announced her entrance into the state's race for governor, he also called out the names of the four other top-tier Republicans in the race.
They are Knoxville entrepreneur Randy Boyd, Williamson County businessman Bill Lee, state Sen. Mae Beavers and House Speaker Beth Harwell.
"You’ve all got big shoes to fill because (Gov.) Bill Haslam is one of the best governors in the United States of America," Pence said to the field of candidates.
Pence also noted the presence of former Republican Govs. Winfield Dunn and Don Sundquist, who received applause.
Beyond touting the state's elected officials, Pence ran through the various issues he and Trump plan on working on, ranging from immigration to health care and tax reform.
"It's prosperity, it's security, it's protecting our fundamental liberties, it's strengthening America at home and abroad. President Trump has done all that and more," Pence said. "And it's only been six months."
Pence said he and Trump will continue fighting until Congress approves legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
"Obamacare has failed, and Obamacare must go," Pence said. "This ain’t over."
Pence's speech to the state Republican Party marks the third time since 1989 that a sitting vice president has addressed the party. The event was also Pence's first visit to Tennessee since becoming vice president.
Fresh off the heels of a trip to Eastern Europe, Pence arrived in Nashville shortly after 5 p.m. and was greeted by Bill Hagerty, the former state Economic and Community Development commissioner and current ambassador to Japan. Pence administered the oath of office for Hagerty last week.
Col. Keith Allbritten, who was the on-scene commander for last year's fatal Blue Angels crash in Smyrna that killed pilot Jeff Kuss, also welcomed Pence at the airport.
Upwards of 50 military personnel and family members also greeted the vice president and cheered and waved as Pence exited Air Force Two.
After the vice president spent about 10 minutes shaking hands and talking with those in the crowd, his motorcade left the airport for Music City Center in downtown.
Haslam, who greeted Trump when he visited Nashville in March, was not at the airport, though he introduced Pence at the dinner.
The vice president and Haslam developed a friendship when Pence served as Indiana governor.
Joining Pence on Air Force Two was Alexander.
Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Scott Golden said Thursday's event featured the largest crowd in the history of the event and netted nearly $850,000.
To coincide with Pence's visit, protesters gathered outside Music City Center to express support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which began during the Obama administration and halted the deportation of immigrant youth if they met certain requirements.
Hours before Pence landed, Tennessee Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Mancini said the vice president's "callousness is on par with Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan."
Mancini criticized Pence for his recent tie-breaking vote to begin debating a health care bill in the U.S. Senate.