05 Jun 2023, 23:25

Ex-VP Pence jumps into 2024 White House race

 WASHINGTON, June  5, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - Republican former vice president Mike
Pence launched Monday his hotly-anticipated challenge to one-time boss Donald
Trump for the party's 2024 White House nomination, setting up the unusual
scenario of two running mates becoming rivals.

 Pence, a 63-year-old evangelical Christian, filed his nomination papers
with the Federal Election Commission ahead of an official declaration to be
made by video Wednesday in the early voting state of Iowa -- joining an already
crowded primary field.

 He spent his 2017-21 tenure as vice president honing his reputation as a
loyal deputy who brought the religious right into the tent and who was willing
to defend the president against any accusation.

 But he became a pariah in Trumpworld after rejecting the Republican
leader's demands that he overturn the 2020 election in his role as president of
the Senate.

 Berated constantly by Trump after Joe Biden's victory -- and even heckled
at a conservative conference with chants of "traitor!" -- Pence continued to
praise the tycoon in public.

 That eventually changed as Trump's torrent of false claims of election
fraud led to a mob chanting for Pence to be hanged at the US Capitol.

 Since the riot, Pence has called out Trump for endangering his family and
has emphasized his differences with the former president on issues ranging from
the handling of Russian leader Vladimir Putin to abortion rights.
       - 'Christian, conservative, Republican' -
 Pence has spent much of the last two years touring early-nominating states
such as Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire to reinforce his political
vision as a "Christian, conservative, Republican -- in that order."

 His entry doesn't much change the dynamics of the race, which is divided
into three lanes -- runaway leader Donald Trump, Trump's closest rival Ron
DeSantis, and everyone else.

  Pence is framing himself as a traditional Republican, concerned with fiscal
responsibility and family values, who can deliver Trump's policies on the
economy, immigration and much else without the drama.

  Marking a contrast with Trump, Pence hasn't ruled out welfare cuts and has
allied himself strongly with Ukraine. He is an abortion hardliner who has
opposed same-sex marriage.

 While his politics are popular within the party, critics question whether
Pence has a constituency in a party that is more focused now on populism and
cultural politics than traditional conservatism.

 And voters sympathetic to his decision to stand up for the Constitution
have other candidate choices, such as the proselytizing Christian Tim Scott who
do not bring with them the baggage of the Trump years.

 "We all give (Pence) credit for certifying the election," Republican
strategist Sarah Longwell told Politico.

 "But he also stood next to Donald Trump and normalized and validated him
for four years while Trump ran roughshod over the presidency."
       - 'Trumpists are angry' -
 Florida Governor DeSantis has consistently been polling almost 20 points
above Pence and is hoping to outflank Trump from the right.

 But DeSantis's poor showing in head-to-head polls has opened the
floodgates, with Chris Christie due to announce on Tuesday, joining former
governors Nikki Haley and Asa Hutchinson in the race.

 Like Haley and DeSantis, Pence has appeared determined to avoid conflict
with Trump in hopes of wooing his former supporters should the cascade of
criminal investigations targeting the former president take him out of the race.

 The lower-ranked candidates have also pointed out that there is a long way
to go in the race.

 At the equivalent point in the 2016 primary -- the first two weeks of June
2015 -- Trump featured in five polls that put his support at between one and
four percent.  

 Whether Pence can distance himself from Trump while peeling off the
ex-president's loyal base remains to be seen.

 "The Trumpists are angry with him. The Never Trumpists are mad at him for
his being part of the administration and support of an impeached, convicted
insurrection promoter," Republican strategist Chip Felkel told Vox.

 "It's a hard path."

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