NBC NEWS – Mike Pence plans to enter the GOP presidential nomination fray June 7 with a campaign video and a kickoff speech in Des Moines, Iowa, according to a person familiar with his launch schedule.
The former vice president, a longtime advocate of the priorities of traditional conservatives on social and economic issues, will join the race at a time when his onetime boss, former President Donald Trump, claims a majority in most national polls and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is in a clear second place.
Redefining himself to Republican voters, most of whom know him primarily as Trump’s vice president, will be a challenge.
But the Indiana-bred Pence views his fellow Midwesterners in the Iowa GOP, and their first-in-the-nation caucuses, as a hospitable home for his brand of politics. Typically, the Iowa caucuses play a winnowing role in the nomination fight, providing rocket fuel to a handful of candidates while burying the hopes of the rest.
“We view this race as absolutely wide open, and Iowa is really going to solidify itself as the pivotal player,” the person familiar with Pence’s plans said. “It’s a place that values Mike Pence’s principles — traditional conservative principles — deep-rooted faith and uncommon character.”
The former vice president will campaign in all 99 Iowa counties before the caucuses, the person said, adding that the campaign “will do the things that put Mike Pence in an advantageous position.”
That includes a lot of retail politicking, from town hall-style meetings with Iowans to drop-by sessions at restaurants. In those sessions, he will have to explain to Republican voters why he split from Trump and certified their 2020 election loss Jan. 6, 2021.
A pro-Trump mob sacked the U.S. Capitol that day in an effort to stop the certification, and some of the rioters chanted “hang Mike Pence.”
As he weighed a campaign in recent months, Pence showed a willingness to separate himself from Trump on policy for the first time since becoming his running mate in 2016. In particular, Pence has unequivocally backed U.S. support for Ukraine and said that Congress and the White House should consider cuts to Medicare and Social Security — positions at odds with those articulated by Trump.
Pence, who served a dozen years in the House and four years as Indiana’s governor, has long been one of the Republican Party’s most vocal leaders pushing the priorities of social conservatives on everything from abortion to LGBTQ rights. His record also shows a Reagan-era affinity for lower taxes, less regulation and robust defense spending.
Despite their falling out, Pence’s criticism of Trump has generally been indirect. The same goes for his approach to DeSantis, with whom he also disagrees on U.S. engagement in Ukraine. Still, the former vice president’s entrance into the race injects someone who has been defined for many Americans — for better and worse — by his decision to stand up to Trump when the presidency and the rule of law were on the line.
The field of contenders is growing more crowded by the week, with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum set to jump into the race in the coming days. That’s a testament to Trump’s failure to convince Republican rivals that he is invincible and DeSantis’ inability to establish himself as the sole rival to the former president.
For Pence, winning the nomination would represent a long and improbable path back to prominence. He’ll take the first step in Des Moines next week on June 7, which is also his birthday.
“What better place to do your announcement than a place that’s going to be so pivotal in the future of the nation,” the person familiar with his plans said. “It certainly conveys the importance that we’re placing on the state.”