Pence fuels speculation of 2024 presidential bid
Former Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to New Hampshire last week and stops in other high-profile early primary states are fueling speculation about a potential 2024 presidential run — and questions about whether he can win over the GOP voters he angered on Jan. 6.
In New Hampshire, Pence made a number of campaign-style stops, attending a fundraiser for Republican state Senate candidates, meeting with local political activists and stopping by a local bakery.
While the former vice president insists that he is laser-focused on bolstering support for Republican candidates running in 2022, New Hampshire is the latest early primary state he’s visited as he works to navigate political life after former President Trump.
In his most direct comments to date, Pence did not rule out a potential 2024 bid, even if Trump also entered the race, as the former president is increasingly hinting he’ll do.
“I can honestly tell you in 2023, my family and I will do what we have always done. We’ll reflect, we’ll pray and determine where we might best serve, and we’ll go where we’re called,” Pence told a CNN reporter in Manchester, N.H., on Wednesday.
A 2024 run will likely require Pence to figure out a way to address his time in the Trump administration, first as a loyalist and then as the target of extreme anger by the former president and his backers.
The former vice president has said he’s spoken with Trump “many times” since the two left office at the beginning of the year, but speculation about frostiness between the two men has persisted, with the former president putting out multiple statements chastising Pence for overseeing the certification of electoral votes on Jan. 6.
A Harvard-Harris Poll survey released earlier this week showed Trump leading the field of potential 2024 GOP primary contenders with 67 percent support, while Pence trailed at 9 percent. However, without Trump in the field, Pence garnered 25 percent support, trailing only Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) at 30 percent support.
GOP strategists have for months suggested Pence’s path to the nomination should he run in 2024 will be clouded by his standing with Trump supporters who viewed his decision to certify President Biden’s victory as a betrayal, despite Pence’s explanation that he simply carried out his constitutionally mandated duty.
However, in New Hampshire, operatives suggested that the issue is fading away from the minds of voters.
“More people are realizing that the vice president did his constitutional duty,” said New Hampshire Republican National Committeeman Chris Ager. “I think the ardent Trump supporters who are very upset at that, and there are a number of them, that number I believe is shrinking.”
New Hampshire Republicans across the board noted how well received the former vice president was by activists and voters alike. Former Trump leaders in the state were also open to the former vice president’s visit.
“I’ve always said he’s a great American and we should welcome him back to New Hampshire every chance we get to have him here. He helps to make the Republican Party strong,” Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who hails from the state, told WMUR this week.
New Hampshire Republican sources said Pence’s trip to the Granite State on Wednesday felt and looked like a campaign tour.
“Given the number of events he did and what they looked like, to me it’s definitely testing the waters looking beyond ‘22 to ‘24,” said veteran New Hampshire Republican strategist Jim Merrill.
New Hampshire will be one of the more closely watched states in 2022, holding elections for governor, Senate, House, state Senate and state House — many of which will be competitive.
“His visit helps tremendously for energizing Republicans in the state and helping our 2022 prospects by fundraising as well as increasing a level of enthusiasm,” Ager said.
Pence is not the only potential 2024 candidate who has visited New Hampshire over the past year. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) visited New Hampshire earlier this month.
“We’re going to have a large number of candidates again,” said Juliana Bergeron, a longtime Republican activist and New Hampshire Republican national committeewoman.
“We all intend to remain neutral and offer anybody who wants to run for president an equal chance here,” she added.
Pence advisers said the former vice president has made no decisions about 2024 and is focused on boosting Republicans ahead of the 2022 midterms. But his actions since leaving office have mirrored those of someone positioning themselves for another run for office.
While Trump has remained largely secluded at his Mar-a-Lago estate or his New Jersey property during his first year out of office, Pence has been highly visible.
He has spoken to conservative groups and appeared alongside lawmakers in South Carolina, Iowa and New Hampshire, all early voting states in the presidential primary. He campaigned alongside Virginia governor-elect Glenn Youngkin (R) on the campaign trail in November’s highest-profile race.
“Vermont also has those elections, as does Maine, as does South Dakota, as does Missouri, Georgia, and Texas and New Jersey,” Merrill said. “It’s no mistake that he’s spending time in New Hampshire.”
The former vice president attended the memorial service of the late Sen. Bob Dole (R) on Friday, mingling with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and lawmakers, while Trump was absent.
And Pence has inserted himself into some of the highest-profile policy debates of the first year of the Biden administration, delivering remarks on a Supreme Court case on abortion rights and directly making the case against the White House’s Build Back Better agenda.
Last week, Pence delivered remarks just one day before oral arguments in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case before the Supreme Court, calling on the high court to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Pence reacted to news that inflation in the U.S. hit a nearly 40-year high on Friday, saying in a statement that the news “proves that the socialist policies that dominate the Democratic Party are failing our country.”
Trump, meanwhile, has frozen the GOP field as he plays coy about whether he’ll seek a second term in 2024. The former president has said he will announce a decision on whether he’ll run after the 2022 midterms.
While Trump leaves prospective candidates in limbo, Pence has seemingly positioned himself as a visible conservative messenger in the meantime, giving him a springboard should he run in 2024.
“Anyone with presidential ambitions has to be building the infrastructure they’re going to need to mount a successful campaign, regardless of who else is on the ticket,” said Dan Eberhart, a GOP fundraiser. “They can’t wait for Trump to announce his intentions. Delay would just hand the Democrats the advantage. Delaying the field may be good for Trump’s fundraising, but it hobbles the party.”
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