Presidential aspirations: Columbus’ own Mike Pence launches presidential bid, challenging Trump

Republican presidential candidate former Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen arrives to speak at a campaign event, Wednesday, June 7, 2023, in Ankeny, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Columbus native and former Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday formally launched his campaign for president in 2024, becoming the first vice president in modern history to take on his former running mate.

Pence, who turned 64 on Wednesday and born and raised in Columbus, formally launched his White House bid with a video Wednesday morning hours before a kickoff event in Iowa, an early-voting state that former President Donald Trump won in the 2016 and 2020 primaries.

“Different times call for different leadership,” Pence says in the video, which was released via Fox News and Twitter hours ahead of the kickoff event. “Today our party and our country need a leader that’ll appeal, as Lincoln said, to the better angels of our nature.”

Pence’s announcement on Wednesday sets up a challenge to his former boss, Donald Trump, just two years after their time in the White House ended with an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and Pence fleeing for his life, The Associated Press reported.

With Pence’s entry into the race, the GOP field is largely set — with a field of Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, South Caroline Sen. Tim Scott, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who also launched his campaign Wednesday.

As of Tuesday, polls showed Trump with a commanding lead over his GOP rivals, with 53.7% voters saying they would support him, followed by DeSantis at 21.3%, according to data-driven news site FiveThirtyEight, which compiles averages from several different national polls. Pence was a distant third with 5.4%.

Pence’s campaign will test the party’s appetite for a socially conservative, mild-mannered and deeply religious candidate who has denounced the populist tide that has swept through his party under Trump, according to wire reports. And it will show whether Pence still has a political future after Jan. 6, 2021, when a large portion of GOP voters still believe Trump’s lies that the 2020 election was stolen and that Pence had the power to reject the results of the election, won by Democrat Joe Biden.

Local reaction

Local Republican leaders said they were excited to see the Columbus native in the race and believe that he has chance to win the nomination despite Trump’s big lead.

Rep. Greg Pence, R-Indiana, the former vice president’s older brother, voiced support on Wednesday for his brother’s candidacy in an interview with Fox Business.

“We’re all excited. We’ve been encouraging him since last fall to get in,” Rep. Greg Pence said. “My mother is watching, my wife, my children are all watching, all my nieces and nephews and siblings are all watching today. …Everybody is excited for him to get in. To know my brother all my life like I have, I really think he’s the right man at the right time today. And so we’re excited that he’ll put himself out there. He’ll talk about the issues he’s always talked about. His genuineness, his honesty, his integrity will show and shine through. I think it’s what the country needs right now.”

“You won’t find a family that did more to get President Trump elected than the Pence family,” he added. “…But I think it’s time for a different direction. I think it’s time for my brother today.”

Former Bartholomew County Republican Party Chair Barb Hackman, who attended Pence’s kickoff event in Iowa on Wednesday with her husband and granddaughter, told The Republic that Mike Pence’s candidacy “is just super exciting.”

“We were already on the map with him being vice president, so this is even a greater opportunity for Columbus and Bartholomew County to get a little more attention … and root for the hometown boy,” Hackman said. “It’s just super, super exciting.”

Current Bartholomew County Republican Party Chair Luanne Welmer said local Republicans are very proud of Pence and are “backing him 100%” in his bid for the White House.

“I think everyone feels that this is a great honor for him to represent Indiana,” Welmer said. “He’s just a wonderful, qualified man for this position as president. We are backing him 100%.”

Former Indiana Rep. Milo Smith, who was in the Indiana General Assembly when Pence was Indiana governor, also praised Pence.

“Mike has proven over and over again to be a man of a lot of principle to complete the job that we elect him to do,” Smith said. “He did that as our congressman, as our governor and especially as our vice president. …I’m most proud of him for standing up to Trump by refusing to decertify the 2020 presidential election. …That says a lot about Mike and his principled upbringing.”

Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop, a Republican, said “it will be an interesting (primary) campaign.”

“The fact that many of us locally know Mike Pence and his family will certainly add a little extra flavor to the campaign,” Lienhoop said. “But at this point, I just wish him all the best of luck.”

While Trump is currently leading in the early fight for the nomination, Pence supporters see a lane for a reliable conservative who espouses many of the administration’s policies but without the constant tumult, according to wire reports.

Hackman said she thinks Pence has a “really great chance” at winning the GOP nomination, emphasizing that there is still a lot of time before the primaries begin.

“We’re a ways off and lots of things can happen between now and then,” Hackman said. “…I think he’ll have the backing of the conservative Republicans, people who have his Midwestern values. I think that’s what helped Trump get elected. …I think (Pence) has a really great chance.”

Political career

Pence, who grew up in an Irish-Catholic home, has said that his hometown of Columbus and parents influenced his life and political career.

He previously told The Republic that the heritage and political ascension of President John F. Kennedy made him dream big as a boy that “maybe I could someday try to do what he did.”

Pence knew three homes while growing up in the city, living on 31st Street, on the northeast side, and later on Hunter Place and Woodside Drive, both on the north side of Columbus.

Pence graduated from Columbus North High School in 1977 and attended Hanover College, graduating in 1981 with a bachelor’s degree in history. He also earned a law degree from IUPUI in 1986.

After unsuccessful bids for Congress in 1988 and 1990, Pence became president of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, according to the Mike Pence Congressional Papers at Indiana University.

In 1992, he began broadcasting “The Mike Pence Show” from WRCR-FM in Rushville, which was syndicated in 1994 and ran weekdays on 18 radio stations throughout the state.

In 2000, Pence was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and would be re-elected five times. In 2012, Pence was elected Indiana’s 50th governor.

Pence then joined Trump’s campaign ticket in July 2016, forming a political odd couple of sorts with a president who would go on to shatter centuries-old norms and traditions while dominating the national discourse like no one before.

In 2017, Pence told The Republic that he and Trump were “different men” with “different life experiences” but had “become good friends.”

However, by January 2021, a significant rift occurred between the two after the then-vice president defied Trump’s repeated attempts to pressure him to use powers he did not have to decertify Electoral College votes during a joint session of Congress.

Currently, Pence resides in Carmel but has spent months laying the groundwork for a presidential run, holding events in early voting states including Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire, visiting churches, delivering policy speeches and courting donors.

In May, Pence allies launched a new super PAC to support his candidacy for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.

“If you work hard, you study hard, and you never give up on your dreams and listen to people that care about you, you can live those dreams,” Pence told The Republic in a 2017 interview.