OTTUMWA — While his hat is not yet in the presidential campaign ring, former Vice President Mike Pence is clearly considering such a bid.
The 48th Vice President visited a group of Republicans at The Club in Ottumwa Wednesday as he advances down a road many expect to end with a campaign for President.
Despite the prodding by Trudy Caviness, the chair of the Wapello County Republicans, Pence insisted he had nothing to announce to the crowd.
"I don't have anything to announce today," Pence said to scattered aahs in the room. "But I will tell you I think it's time that all of us think very deeply about what role we can play or could play. And I honestly believe that those of us that have the experience need to reflect deeply on what our duty is at such a time as this."
Mixed in with thoughts on his book and his political career, Pence was blunt in his criticism of President Joe Biden's administration, and the performance of Democrats in Congress.
"It's extraordinary for me to see how rapidly the Biden administration and that Democrat-majority in Congress for those first two years dismantled all the progress that we had made," Pence said. "And worse still has been the trampling on our liberties and our values."
At the top of the list for Biden's failures, Pence opined, was America's pullout of troops from Afghanistan which resulted in the deaths of 13 troops as the 20-year war ended.
"The disgraceful exit ... I think it dishonored the service and sacrifice of 20 years of service members," Pence said. "Can I just say this to those who wore the uniform or had family who wore the uniform? Whatever the disgrace the withdrawal from Afghanistan by the Biden administration will never diminish the honor that is owed to all those who served and sacrificed in Afghanistan."
'This feels like home to me'
Pence, who hails from southern Indiana, told the crowd of roughly four dozen in Ottumwa Wednesday that Iowa makes him feel at home.
"I actually met one person tonight ... who's read my book," Pence said to laughs. "So that's a start."
Pence talked about stories in his 2022 book, "So Help Me God." The first was admitting to a groaning crowd he began his political adventures originally as a Democrat.
But the Hoosier said the voice of a Republican president steered him onto another path politically.
"It was the voice of Ronald Reagan that I heard the values of my immigrant grandfather, my combat veteran father, and I joined the Reagan revolution and never looked back," Pence said.
He told the story of visiting Reagan at the White House toward the end of the 40th President's tenure. Taking the advice of his wife Karen Pence over that of political advisers, he decided not to talk politics with Reagan but instead spoke from his heart.
"I look at the President and said, 'I just want to thank you for everything you've done to convince my generation to believe in this country,'" Pence remembered.
Later, Pence said, Reagan told those assembled that while many had thanked him he didn't feel he had done anything.
"He said, 'I think the American people just decided to right the ship and I was just the captain they put on the bridge when they did it,'" Pence recalled. "Ronald Reagan inspired me to join this party and inspires me to this day."
The nation is on the wrong path now, Pence said. But he shared a message of hope.
"This is a freedom-loving nation," Pence said. "This is a nation of faith. This is the most idealistic, innovative, hard-working, family-oriented and generous people the world has ever known. We just have to have a government as good as our people again. And I believe that we will, and I know that Iowa will do their part."
The right to life
Pence, even with his notable contrast to President Donald Trump whom he served alongside, listed many accomplishments from the four-year Trump Administration. Among several, he listed a reduction in illegal immigration on the southern border, investments in the military, a lessening of various restrictions, and passed tax cuts, as the administration's greatest successes.
He charged much of that progress has been undone by the Biden presidency. But still left are more than 300 conservative federal judges and three Supreme Court justices appointed by the Trump administration.
"I'm proud to have been a small part of the administration that appointed three of the justices that sent Roe versus Wade to the ash heap of history where it belongs and gave America a new beginning to the right to life," Pence said, calling himself a laborer for the right to life cause. "To see that day, and to see states like Iowa and Indiana advancing the cause of life, is a source of great meaning to me."
Pence's visit to Ottumwa Wednesday was his third Iowa stop of the week. He attended a Des Moines meet and greet on Tuesday, and spoke with students of Des Moines Christian School Wednesday afternoon.
While polling consistently shows Pence trailing other potential and declared candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, he told local media he didn't take much stock in those numbers.
"As I said, I'm not an announced candidate for president," Pence said. "But should we announce a decision to seek the Republican nomination I honestly think this campaign doesn't get started until the debates start. ... I really do believe the American people are looking for a return to the polices of the Trump-Pence administration."
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