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Mike Pence to make case for Trump re-election in Republican convention star turn

WASHINGTON, Aug 26 (Reuters) - Vice President Mike Pence takes center stage at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday to make the case that his boss, President Donald Trump, will bring the U.S. economy back to its pre-pandemic heights if given four more years in office.

Pence, who will be renominated as Trump’s running mate after on-and-off speculation that he would be dropped from the ticket, is the highest ranking official to address the four-day convention aside from the president, who has made appearances each day. His speech is expected to highlight the administration’s record as well as goals for a second term.

The former Indiana governor has served as a loyal - critics would say too loyal - lieutenant to Trump, a former New York businessman and reality television star who had no governing experience when he became president in January 2017.

The vice president, a conservative Christian, served as a key connector between Trump and evangelical voters, a powerful and influential part of the Republican political base.

But he has also become, along with Trump, the face of the White House response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 177,000 people in the United States and put tens of millions of Americans out of work. Pence leads the White House coronavirus task force.

A White House official said Pence would not shy away from speaking about the virus and the administration’s work to tackle it. He is proud of that work, said the official, who noted that Pence’s appointment to lead the effort showed Trump’s confidence in him.

Another official said Pence would offer an optimistic vision for the country in his speech, while also providing a contrast with former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris, the Democratic presidential and vice presidential nominees in the Nov. 3 election, who at their own party convention last week warned the country against returning Trump to the White House.

Despite the promise of an upbeat message, the first two days of the Republican gathering were peppered with ominous predictions of radical socialism and chaos if Democrats win the White House.

First lady Melania Trump struck a more compassionate note on Tuesday night in her address from the White House Rose Garden, acknowledging the suffering from the pandemic as well as the harsh reality of racial unrest. Trump plans to speak before a large crowd on the White House South Lawn on Thursday, the convention’s last day.

Trump is trailing Biden in opinion polls and Republicans are hoping he will get a boost from a convention that is highlighting his re-election themes of “law and order” and a soaring economy before the coronavirus outbreak.

Pence plans to speak from Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, the inspiration for the U.S. national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner,” providing a patriotic landmark as a backdrop and allowing space for an outdoor live audience. Both parties’ conventions have been dramatically scaled back, taking place mostly virtually and without large live audiences to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Other speakers scheduled on Wednesday include second lady Karen Pence, Senators Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Joni Ernst of Iowa, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, and Kellyanne Conway, who announced earlier this week that she would be stepping down as White House adviser.

Reporting by Jeff Mason, Editing by Soyoung Kim and Howard Goller

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