The former Indiana governor who is now a “heartbeat away” from the Oval Office was in Southern California Monday for a round of fundraising, but he sparked a national controversy just before the trip by walking out of an Indianapolis Colts NFL game when some San Francisco 49er players refused to stand for the national anthem.

Los Angeles reporters would no doubt have questions for Vice President Mike Pence, but there is no press availability scheduled during his trip to Southern California to raise Republican political funds in an overwhelmingly Democratic state.

But before flying to Los Angeles, Pence and his wife stopped in Indiana to attend the Indianapolis Colts NFL game against the San Francisco 49ers, and immediately left the stadium when a number of San Francisco players knelt during the national anthem.

President Trump tweeted that he’d told Pence to walk out if any players disrespected the flag and the military by refusing to stand for the Star Spangled Banner.

Pence was quoted as saying he left the stadium because “we should rally around our Flag.”

“I left today’s Colts game because President Trump and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem,” he said in a written statement. “At a time when so many Americans are inspiring our nation with their courage, resolve, and resilience, now, more than ever, we should rally around our Flag and everything that units us.

“While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, I don’t think it’s too much to ask NFL players to respect the Flag and our National Anthem. I stand with President Trump, I stand with our soldiers, and I will always stand for ourFlag and our National Anthem.”

While more than a dozen 49er players knelt, players for the Colts stood but with arms linked.

Players not standing for the national anthem have said their protests are aimed at police violence against black people, and the NFL demonstrations are not disrespecting the flag, national anthem or military.

A former 49ers quarterback began the controversy, and he may have been targeted by Trump who referred to a player as a “son of bitch” when the president sparked the NFL uproar in a recent speech.

That quarterback is no longer with the team and has not been picked up by any other NFL team. He says his protests have succeeded in bringing attention to the issue, so if he is hired to play again he will stand for the national anthem in the future.

Pence and his wife Karen were to arrive at Los Angeles International Airport on Air Force Two Sunday evening after attending the NFL game in Indianapolis earlier in the day.

Pence was scheduled to participate in what his office would only describe as a “political reception” at a “Los Angeles location” Sunday night. That event, and the others on Pence’s schedule, were to be closed to reporters.

Monday’s fundraiser will be held at the Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach, according to one of the organizers, Republican National Committee member Shawn Steel. It was scheduled for last month, but had to be delayed as Pence went to Florida following Hurricane Irma.

The luncheon is meant to raise money for California Victory 2018, a joint fundraising committee for seven Republicans House members from California targeted by Democrats in the 2018 midterm election — Reps. Darrel Issa of Vista, Dana Rohrabacher of Huntington Beach, Mimi Walters of Irvine, Ed Royce of Brea, Steve Knight of Palmdale, David Valadao of Hanford and Jeff Denham of Turlock.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton carried the seven districts in last year’s presidential election for the Democratic Party.

Steel said he was excited about the fundraiser and noted how Pence, when he was in Congress, drove a mile in the rain as a favor to Rohrabacher to attend a fundraiser for Steel’s wife, Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel who was then running for a seat on the Board of Equalization.

“I never forgot that,” Steel said.

Costa Mesa City Councilman Jim Righeimer is planning to attend the fundraiser.

“I met (Pence) back when he was a congressman, actually,” Righeimer said. “He’s very personable, very down to earth — someone you’d expect out of a Midwestern state.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, will also headline the event.

“I’ve known Kevin since we were both young Republicans when his hair wasn’t gray yet and I didn’t have a bald spot,” Righeimer said.

–Staff and wire reports

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