Mike Pence is headed to Iowa the same day rival Nikki Haley is announcing her presidential bid. The former vice president will headline a grassroots rally and launch a statewide advertising campaign as part of a fresh foray into the key 2024 battleground.
Pence will begin next Wednesday in St. Paul, Minnesota, delivering a speech supporting Iowa parents suing a Linn County school district in federal court over its student gender-transition policies. Pence then will travel to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to powwow with voters at a Pizza Ranch restaurant, a stop popular among Republican presidential contenders. He will use the event to launch a $1 million-plus effort by his political nonprofit organization to “combat the radical left’s indoctrination of children.”
“Advancing American Freedom will not rest until parental rights are restored in Iowa and across the nation,” the former vice president said in a statement shared with The Dispatch.
For now, Donald Trump is the only declared major candidate in the 2024 presidential race. But Haley, Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations, will jump into the race next Wednesday with a late morning rally in Charleston, South Carolina, before heading to New Hampshire for two days of campaigning.
Pence continues to mull a White House bid, and he is moving to upstage his former Trump administration colleague with a campaign-style event in Iowa centered around parental rights, public education curriculum, and gender. The Iowa caucuses mark the first contest on the GOP’s 2024 nominating calendar and these issues are lately a top priority of the Republican base.
“The strength of our nation is tied to the strength of our families, and we cannot stand idly by as the radical left attempts to indoctrinate our children behind parents’ backs,” Pence said.
Trump and Pence enjoyed a close working relationship as president and vice president. Trump trusted Pence to lead on some of his most important initiatives and gave him a free hand to operate politically. In exchange, Pence vocally defended Trump amid myriad controversies, keeping any concerns he had about his boss to himself. But the two Republicans split over Trump’s handling of their loss to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in 2020.
Trump demanded that Pence essentially overturn the results in his capacity as presider of the joint session of Congress that convened Jan. 6, 2021, to certify the Biden-Harris Electoral College victory. Pence, citing the Constitution, refused and broke with Trump in a very public way that sparked a rift between the two that continues to fester.
Although Pence, 63, has visited the Hawkeye State regularly since leaving office in January 2021, this new digital advocacy campaign from his 501(c)4, Advancing American Freedom, marks more engagement that could lay the foundation for a campaign operation in the state. To oversee this effort, the former vice president has tapped veteran Republican operative Bobby Saparow, no stranger to thorny GOP primaries or opposition from Trump.
In the 2022 midterm elections, Saparow served as campaign manager for Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. In that role, he helped Kemp navigate a Republican primary challenge from former Georgia Sen. David Perdue, who was endorsed by Trump and backed by the former president’s political operation. In the general election, Saparow guided the governor past a spirited challenge from Democrat Stacey Abrams.
Pence’s prospects in a 2024 Republican primary are uncertain. His name recognition is high, and over decades he has cultivated a deep relationship with Evangelicals and social conservatives. But the former vice president’s poll numbers so far are tepid; he trails Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis by wide margins in hypothetical primary matchups.