Hillsborough County Republicans applauded Mike Pence’s promise of a “great Republican comeback” at the committee’s Lincoln-Reagan Dinner in Manchester on Thursday evening.
The former vice president minimized the tension between himself and former President Donald Trump over the Jan. 6 riot in the U.S. Capitol, and the acrimonious statements Trump has since made about Pence and other Republican leaders who certified the 2020 election results.
“Jan. 6 was a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol,” Pence said.
He praised the police who quelled the riot after a mob ransacked the Capitol, some calling for Pence’s death. But Pence stuck by the certification of the election results that declared Democrat Joe Biden the winner.
“That day we reconvened the Congress and did our duty,” Pence said.
The room was nearly silent.
Pence said he and Trump may never see eye to eye about Jan. 6, “but I will always be proud of what we accomplished for the American people over the last four years.”
He praised Trump and his presidency, and underlined his role in the administration’s economic policy, the COVID-19 response and appointments of three Supreme Court justices.
“We made America greater than ever before,” Pence said.
Pence remains a draw for New Hampshire Republican activists.
Chris Maidment, vice chairman of the Hillsborough County Republican Party, said the event raised $75,000, with 375 tickets sold. Maidment said the Hillsborough County GOP’s previous record was 200 tickets, when former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski of Windham spoke.
Pence’s speech was widely seen as a test of his appeal ahead of a possible run for president in 2024.
“There’s no question Vice President Pence has a real shot at the New Hampshire primary,” said Jim Merrill, a lobbyist and veteran of Republican presidential politics. The field is wide open, Merrill said, but he thinks Pence’s name recognition and network will give him an early leg up.
On paper, Pence should be an early favorite in the 2024 presidential primary, said Dante Scala, professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire,
“A former vice president should be able to appeal to all different parts of the party,” Scala said.
But Pence might be different from other vice presidents.
“Most former vice presidents don’t face charges of betrayal,” Scala said. “He does start off under this shadow, the shadow of last January.”
Scala said he wondered if Pence will be able to carve out a middle ground. The former president’s most fervent supporters hope Trump will run again, and may be cool to Pence because of Trump’s frustration with him.
“I have a feeling President Trump is coming back,” said Bruce Breton, a Windham selectman.
An early supporter of the former president, Breton has expressed skepticism about the 2020 election results. Breton said if Trump does not run, he will wait to see who Trump endorses.
Fergus Cullen, a former New Hampshire Republican Party chairman who has long opposed Trump, said moderate Republicans may be turned off by Pence’s service as Trump’s vice president.
“I’m not sure there’s any constituency for Mike Pence,” he said.
He wondered if the evangelical Christian voters who supported Pence as governor of Indiana would still support him.
Shannon McGinley, executive director of the Christian policy advocacy group Cornerstone Action, said she thought Pence served with integrity.
“I think many voters in the faith community would find him a candidate worthy of a serious look,” McGinley said.
Other voters, Scala said, will likely be waiting to see what other options they have in the Republican primary.
Already this year, virtual appearances by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at New Hampshire Republican events have stoked speculation about their possible candidacies.