/Operation MAGA: Trump campaign to resume in-person events with Pence Ariz. trip as president battles COVID-19

Operation MAGA: Trump campaign to resume in-person events with Pence Ariz. trip as president battles COVID-19

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign is deploying Vice President Mike Pence to Arizona next week to resume in-person campaign events even after Trump and several other top Republicans tested positive for COVID-19.

The Trump campaign announced Saturday that Pence will host a “Make America Great Again!” event in Peoria, Arizona on Thursday. It comes as Trump is fighting the coronavirus at Walter Reed Medical Center and after Trump campaign manager Brad Stepien also tested positive for the virus.

The trip will begin what the campaign is calling “Operation MAGA” – a return of in-person campaign events led by Pence and Trump family members, such as Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Lara Trump, while the president is treated for the virus.

“Vice President Mike Pence, the First Family, our coalitions, and our grassroots supporters will be out in full force to show the real enthusiasm behind the President’s re-election and to show we’re working as hard as he always does,” Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, who is also sidelined by the virus, said in a statement.

Pence’s Arizona event will be held at the corporate offices of TYR Tactical, a company that sells military gear. The campaign, which opened the event for general admissions, did not specify in a news release whether it will take place indoors or outdoors.

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Vice President Mike Pence speaks at a campaign event at a PennEnergy Resources site on Wednesday Sept. 9. 2020, in Freedom, Pa.

The decision to move ahead with in-person campaigning comes as Trump’s cavalier attitude toward the coronavirus – including holding rallies where many in attendance haven’t worn face masks – faces intense scrutiny amid the outbreak thathit Trump, the campaign and other Republican officials.

The absence of Trump on the campaign trail will challenge a campaign that relies heavily on large rallies to fire up his loyal base.

Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who tested negative for the virus twice Friday, went ahead with a campaign event in Grand Rapids, Michigan that afternoon, speaking in the parking lot of a union hall. He held a virtual campaign event Saturday afternoon.

Pence and second lady Karen Pence tested negative for a second straight day, sources confirmed. Pence is scheduled to be in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, the day before the Arizona event, for the debate with Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris.

The Biden campaign confirmed it removed negative advertising after Trump tested positive for the virus, but the Trump campaign remains on the attack with negative ads.

“Joe Biden has turned his back on Arizonans by advocating for the far-left’s agenda of harsh regulations and high taxes,” the Trump campaign said in its announcement about the Peoria, Arizona event.

Defending the decision to keep running negative ads targeting Biden, the Trump campaign pointed to remarks Biden made during a campaign speech in Grand Rapids, Michigan, critical of Trump policies.

“Joe Biden used his speech in Michigan today to attack the President repeatedly on Social Security, the economy, and job creation,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said.

More than a dozen who were in close contact with Trump or White House officials have tested positive for COVID-19, upending the presidential race just one month before Election Day.

Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.