By James Oliphant and Steve Holland

 

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md./WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Vice President Mike Pence rallied thousands of conservative activists on Thursday to fight back against a Democratic drive to take over the U.S. Congress in 2018 elections, calling a Republican victory at the midterm votes crucial to advancing President Donald Trump's agenda.

 

A Christian conservative, Pence spoke at the annual gathering of the Conservative Political Action Conference, a traditional venue where the grassroots of the Republican Party makes itself felt. This year, the event has largely been dominated by pro-Trump forces who helped Trump in his unlikely victory in the 2016 election.

 

Republicans face some headwinds in November's midterm elections as they try to hang on to majorities in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. Democrats, motivated by Trump's chaotic presidency, feel they are poised for big victories.

 

"The other side is motivated. The other side is mobilized. And so today, to the men and women of this conservative movement, I admonish you: Let this be the day that we as a movement decided to deliver another victory for the American people in 2018," Pence said.

 

Republicans plan to campaign for re-election on what has been Trump's biggest legislative victory of his presidency, sweeping tax cuts that Congress passed in December.

They are weighed down, however, by Trump's low job approval rating, at around 40 percent. The party that controls the White House typically loses seats in Congress in the first election after a presidential election.

TAX CUTS, MILITARY

Pence cited the tax cuts, plans to spend more on the U.S. military, a crackdown on illegal immigration and a repeal of government regulations as some of the main reasons to support Republicans in November.

He described Democrats as wedded only to fighting Trump and doing little else for the country: "Their platform can be summed up in only one word: Resist. Resist our policies. Resist our president, and resist the progress the progress that you and I and our entire movement has fought for so hard, so long, to achieve."

"And it’s up to us to stop them," he said.

Trump is to address the group, meeting in a suburb of Washington, on Friday.

Pence, who led the U.S. delegation at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in South Korea earlier this month, also focused on a familiar theme for Trump supporters - attacking the U.S. news media.

In this case, he accused the media of fawning over Kim Jo Yong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. She attended the opening of the Olympics and got a red-carpet welcome from South Korean President Moon Jae-in but was shunned by Pence.

He called her "a central pillar of the most tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet, an evil family clique that brutalizes, subjugates, starves and imprisons its 25 million people."

"The United States of America doesn't stand with murderous dictatorships. We stand up to murderous dictatorships. And we will keep standing strong until North Korea stops threatening our country, our allies or until they abandon their nuclear and ballistic missiles once and for all," he said.

(Additional reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Alistair Bell)