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Political Mercury

Pence reaches for reliable conservative ground in rousing Iowa speech


Buoyed by his political companion for the day, the popular west-central Iowa congressman Randy Feenstra, former Vice President Mike Pence delivered a fierce defense of long-held conservative values to Iowa’s 4th District Republican Convention at Carroll High School April 23.

More than 400 people, including about 250 district convention delegates, mingled for the better part of an hour with Pence, a potential but as-of-yet unannounced presidential candidate. They rose with strong applause at several points during his 15-minute speech in the Tigers’ gymnasium.

Pence’s pitch: He’s the tried-and-true ideological conservative, a contrast with the more transactional conservatism of former President Donald Trump, whom Pence carefully complimented on policy initiatives.

“I think you’ve got those words really right for where I see the direction of the Republican Party,” said Eileen Sailer, co-chairperson of the Crawford County Republican Central Committee.

Sailer, 74, a retired nurse who lives in rural Denison, said Pence struck all the right chords on the core beliefs of the Republican Party.

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“Everybody knows that’s Mike Pence, that’s what drives his speech,” Sailer said.

Whether Pence emerges as a strong candidate for the White House in the Iowa caucuses depends on what shape the field takes, she said.

Pence has defended certifying the result of the 2020 election, which President Biden won in the Electoral College 306-232. Many Trump supporters, who adhere to a host of narratives spun by Trump and allies, remain furious with Pence for his role in the democratic process, but there were no visible signs of such animus at Carroll High School as GOP delegates swarmed Pence in the cafeteria.

“I would say at this point he would be a viable candidate,” Sailer said. “I think he’s an honest man. I’ve talked to a lot of Republicans around the state. A lot of them were disenchanted with how things turned out on Jan. 6 and Mike Pence’s stance on the election. But on the other hand, I honestly believe he thought he was doing the right thing, so some people are going to give him the benefit of the doubt for that.”

Evan Deal, 19, of Algona, a student at the University of Iowa, said Pence delivered a “powerful, moving speech.” But he thinks Trump retains definitive support in Iowa and urged Pence to wait for another cycle.

“Either Trump or (Florida Gov. Ron) DeSantis, (Texas Sen.) Ted Cruz,” Deal said. “There is a handful of options, but Trump has the most support in the party right now, and he is kind of the backbone of it, kind of the strong conservative movement. Seeing him run again would be a good thing.”

For his part, Pence said Feenstra’s commitment to conservatism had earned national attention.
“I am particularly honored to be here today with a congressman — I don’t think since the days that Chuck Grassley arrived in the House of Representatives there was an Iowan who made a bigger impression more quickly,” Pence said of the 4th District congressman, a Hull Republican.

Pence also referred to Gov. Kim Reynolds as “one of the most effective governors” in the United States.
“I can say I was for Kim Reynolds before it was cool,” Pence said. “She’s an amazing leader. That response to the State of the Union address continues to echo all across the country.”

Pence stressed that during the Trump administration the nation became a net exporter of energy. He also cited job creation and stronger controls on illegal immigration, as well as the confirmation of more than 300 conservatives to the federal bench and efforts to roll back abortion rights.

“Every single day we stood without apology for religious liberty and the sanctity of human life,” Pence said.

Pence said what he sees as failures of the Biden Administration are setting up Republicans for success up and down the ticket in Iowa and other states in the November general elections.

“It’s amazing to think how far our country has fallen in just 15 months,” Pence said. “Joe Biden’s done more damage to America in his first year and a half than any president in my lifetime.”

Inflation is at a 40-year high and pressing down on American families, he said.

“One of the advantages of no longer being vice president is I get to drive my own car,” Pence said.

“One of the disadvantages is I get to pay for my own gas.”

The “war on energy,” not Ukraine, is behind the increase in gas prices, Pence said.

On foreign policy, Pence placed blame for war in Ukraine squarely on Russian President Vladimir Putin but said the Biden administration is not projecting enough American strength.

“I met Vladmir Putin, I stood toe to toe with him,” Pence said. “Putin only understands strength, and we must meet this moment. We must stand with the people of Ukraine, give them the means to defend themselves and answer with American strength.”

On the domestic front, Pence said calls for freedom in education led to Republican success in statewide elections in Virginia and elsewhere.

“Parents are rising and taking our schools back,” Pence said.

Justin Schultz, a Republican supervisor in Pottawattamie County, said Pence would be in his top tier of presidential candidates should the Indiana Republican seek the office.

“One thing I will tell you, when he was vice president one thing I admired the most about working with that administration, specifically the vice president, was that we had direct access to the White House,” Schultz said.

Ale Hayes, treasurer of the Iowa Young Republicans, is not a fan of Pence.

While allowing that Pence is a “people person,” she said, “My honest view is I don’t really like him anymore after the election. I think he could have vouched a little more for Donald Trump.”

Hayes said she did see one person hold a sign near Pence at Carroll High with the message, “Trump won bigly.”

Jean Ludwig, 78, co-chairwoman of the Carroll County Republican Party, said Pence delivered a “rousing” speech.

“I was very impressed with that,” Ludwig said. “He appeared to me to be a very mild-mannered person as a rule. I was very glad to see some very good energy.”

She wants to see him run for president.

“I think he would be one of my first choices,” Ludwig said. “I’d like to see Trump run, but I’m not sure if he could win.” ♦

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman. He and his family own and publish newspapers in Carroll, Jefferson  and other neighboring communities.

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