Mike Pence will celebrate his birthday by announcing his GOP presidential bid
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
In a moment, we have the story of the singer behind "The Girl From Ipanema." But first, former Vice President Mike Pence has launched his presidential campaign. He is celebrating his birthday in Iowa today.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Pence is the latest to join a growing field of 2024 GOP candidates. And he's got some familiar conservative talking points.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MIKE PENCE: We will kick these liberal meddlers out of our gun stores and out of your lives.
MARTIN: But he also has a task that's unique to him - explaining how he's a better choice than the man he governed alongside for four years.
INSKEEP: NPR political correspondent Kelsey Snell is in Des Moines, Iowa. Hey there, Kelsey.
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi, good morning.
INSKEEP: How are things in Iowa?
SNELL: Well, it is presidential season out here. And, you know, Iowa's actually a pretty popular place right now. A pork expo is kicking off across town with the Pence presidential campaign...
SNELL: ...You know, on the other side.
INSKEEP: All right.
SNELL: Yeah. You know, all that kind of makes getting a hotel room or a rental car pretty tough. But moments like these happen a lot in Iowa. Their caucuses are typically the first voting test in a presidential primary. And Pence is already spending a lot of time here. He was just here last week riding a motorcycle at a big event with other candidates, and they will be back a lot.
The caucus process in Iowa is really known for bringing out engaged voters, and Pence had success in 2016 appealing specifically to evangelicals. That's part of why he was chosen to be the vice presidential candidate. And that might have some advantage for him if he's trying to appeal to traditional, engaged elements of the GOP here in Iowa.
INSKEEP: OK. So he's appealing to a base group. He's trying to have some fun. But he faces a serious question, which is how would he distinguish himself from the former president, who he served as vice president for four years?
SNELL: Well, you know, so far he sounds a lot like the Mike Pence who ran in the 2016 primary, which is actually pretty interesting because a lot has changed in American politics since then and within the Republican Party in particular. You know, he talks about free trade and fair markets, Christian family values and conservatism. He talks about his opposition to abortion. But what he doesn't really talk much about is Trump.
One thing he does talk about is respecting the Constitution, which is meant to be a shot at Trump. But he doesn't really talk about formative moments like January 6 when that pro-Trump mob attacked the Capitol, including people who were chanting, hang Mike Pence. So, you know, Pence has said that Trump was wrong about January 6 and criticized him in the past. But that is not the central message of his campaign, at least not so far.
INSKEEP: OK, so at least they differ on the hanging vice presidents issue. But when we look across the nearly a dozen people running for the nomination, have they done much to distinguish themselves from each other?
SNELL: I mean, I think we kind of have to take them all as different examples. You know, we're even seeing the field expand this week. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie got in yesterday and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum is planning to get in today. You know, they're both long shots. But I want to talk about Christie in particular, because he is interesting.
He's aggressively targeting Trump. He's doing what Pence really hasn't. He's calling out Trump for all of the ways he altered the party. And he's really set on taking Trump down. It isn't clear that Christie has the support to actually do that, but he wants to be a factor in the debates, and he wants to be an aggressive Trump critic.
You know, that's really not what we're seeing from a lot of others in this race, though, as I mentioned about Pence. Trump is certainly a bigger factor in the polls than he appears in their speeches. He's very popular with Republican voters. And just like in 2016, Republican challengers in this field don't really seem to know how to talk about him. But it's early, and a lot can happen. Lots can change, and Trump is still facing significant legal jeopardy in multiple states and in the District of Columbia.
You know, this is just the start. And these candidates are going to start bumping into each other and establishing messages about the campaign as it wears on.
INSKEEP: NPR political correspondent Kelsey Snell is in Des Moines. Kelsey, I hope you get a chance to drop by the pork expo in addition to the presidential announcement thing.
SNELL: (Laughter) Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.