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WHITE HOUSE BID

Mike Pence plans to launch US presidential campaign next week in Iowa

Former US vice-president Mike Pence.(Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

Former vice president Mike Pence is challenging his one-time boss Donald Trump in a campaign that will put the spotlight on the deep personal rift between the once-close political allies and test whether a party dominated by the former president can accept someone who defied him.

Pence, 63, plans to formally announce his presidential campaign on 7 June in Iowa, according to a person familiar with the plans.

Pence has been laying the groundwork for a White House bid for more than a year, visiting early-voting states, giving policy speeches and promoting an autobiography. But he so far hasn’t broken out of the lower tier of 2024 GOP White House aspirants. The RealClearPolitics average of polls has Pence with less than 4% support.

The former vice president is offering himself as the only traditional conservative in the field who can win the Republican nomination and defeat President Joe Biden — while governing with more civility than Trump.

But Pence has tried to have it both ways, citing popular policies and accomplishments of the “Trump-Pence administration” while breaking from the former president on election denialism and Trump’s praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Pence concedes there are Republican voters who haven’t forgiven him for defying Trump’s demands to reject Electoral College votes for Biden on 6 January 2021. Pence said he didn’t have the authority, prompting members of the mob that stormed the US Capitol to chant “Hang Mike Pence”.

Break with Trump

Pence has said he’s prepared to make the case to voters that he followed the Constitution, and that Trump is wrong to say he had the power to overturn the election and stop the peaceful transfer of power for the first time in US history.

“Look, the people in our party love the Constitution. It’s just we’ve gone through a couple of years where they’ve been told things about what the Constitution says that just aren’t so,” Pence said in an exclusive interview with Bloomberg News on 16 May.

Trump picked the former Indiana governor and congressman — a devout Christian who often introduces himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order” — to be his 2016 running mate with the aim of shoring up support among evangelical voters.

Pence has tried to differentiate himself from both Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who entered the presidential race last week. Pence has criticised DeSantis for escalating a fight with the Walt Disney Company over its opposition to a law limiting school instruction on gender identity, saying it is not what a conservative, limited-government Republican would do.

But critics question whether Pence has a path to the nomination, given his inability so far to win over hard-core Trump supporters and Republicans looking for an alternative.

A Pence-sanctioned super PAC will be taking national the paid voter contact programme that helped Georgia Governor Brian Kemp defeat a Trump-backed candidate by 52 points in the state’s GOP primary last year — before going on to win against well-funded Democrat, Stacey Abrams, in the general election.

“This campaign is going to reintroduce Mike Pence to the country as his own man, not as vice president, but as a true economic, social, and national security conservative — a Reagan conservative,” Republican strategist Scott Reed, the super PAC’s co-chairman, told reporters 12 May.

House veteran

Pence was born and raised in Indiana, and after graduating from Indiana University School of Law practised as an attorney in addition to hosting a syndicated talk-radio show and a weekly public affairs television programme in the Hoosier State. Pence was elected to the first of six terms in Congress in 2000 and rose to serve as chairman of the House Republican Study Committee and House Republican Conference.

He was elected Indiana governor in 2012 and touts record employment and signing the largest income tax cut in the state’s history, But he was also dogged by controversy for signing a state law aimed at protecting religious liberty that opponents said allowed discrimination against gay people.

As vice president, Pence led the White House Coronavirus Task Force that responded to the pandemic, including with the rapid development of effective vaccines.

Pence earlier this year was embroiled in an investigation into the handling of classified documents when a small number of records were discovered at his Indiana home. He said the documents were packed without his knowledge when he left office. Unlike Trump, who has contested the probe into his handling of records, Pence has said he’s fully cooperating.

The former vice president was also subpoenaed by the special counsel investigating Trump, but Pence has said he doesn’t think his former boss did anything illegal and “all of the controversies that are surrounding the president are just not what people talk to me about.”

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