FLORENCE, S.C. — After years as Donald Trump’s low-profile sidekick, former Vice President Mike Pence is now popping up everywhere — or at least in friendly forums.
On Wednesday morning, he traveled to the U.S. Capitol for a meeting with House conservatives, some of whom urged him to run for president in 2024. In the evening, he spoke at a church service in Florence, South Carolina, where he drew a standing ovation after a speech praising the end of abortion rights and discussing what comes next.
“The tide has turned in this nation,” Pence told about 1,500 congregants at Florence Baptist Temple. “Many more are with us than are with them. Don’t ever doubt it. Life is winning in America.”
Come Friday, he and Trump will hold dueling rallies in Arizona for candidates competing in the Republican primary. And next week, they’ll each give a speech in the nation's capital, a day apart.
Wherever he goes, Pence urges support for conservative candidates running in the midterm elections, often by highlighting their anti-abortion credentials. But he’s also considering a presidential run of his own and his shadow campaign is well underway, fueled by a long conservative record that often diverges from Trump’s.
Pence made the barest mention of Trump in his appearance at the church here: a passing reference to the “Trump-Pence” administration’s anti-abortion policies.
Now that Roe v. Wade is overturned, he said, states hold great sway over whether abortion is legal. He urged a nationwide ban on the practice — something that requires “a movement in every state in the country.”
“It’s incumbent on all of us to ensure that we have the leadership in our statehouses that reflect a commitment to life,” he said. “It’s time to end this injustice in every state in America.”
At the same time, he advocated making adoption less costly and a more feasible option for families.
Having spent so much time in Trump’s shadow, Pence has been introducing himself to audiences who may have little sense of the man. He’s received more publicity lately thanks to the House Jan. 6 committee, which cast him as a hero for rebuffing Trump’s demand that he not certify Joe Biden’s victory.
Pence didn’t say anything about Jan. 6 in his speech Wednesday night, nor did he answer an NBC News reporter’s question afterward as he shook hands with the audience on his way out.
But he made an impression on the crowd, detailing how his life has changed since he gave up the perks that come with the vice presidency for a more pedestrian existence back in his home state of Indiana. In a swipe at the high gas prices that have dogged Biden, he said, “The good part of no longer being vice president is I get to drive my own car. The bad part is I have to pay for my own gas.”
Despite having served as vice president and governor of Indiana, he said, he still had to wait nearly a half hour for a table at an Olive Garden restaurant one Saturday night. “That’s America, Dad,” he said his daughter, Charlotte, texted him when he told her about it.
If Pence is to have any chance of defeating Trump, he needs to corral the evangelical voters who remain grateful to the former president for appointing a trio of Supreme Court justices who all voted to overturn Roe. Some of the congregants interviewed said they’d give Pence a serious look.
Holding a Bible on his way out of the church, Franklin Stewart, 80, said he would prefer Pence to Trump if both run for the GOP nomination in 2024. “Because of Pence’s Christian stance, right now I’d have to go with him,” he said.