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Pence's Midterm Message Shows How His Future Depends On Trump's Success

Vice President Pence speaks during a campaign event for Pennsylvania congressional candidate Rick Saccone in February. Pence is playing a big role in Republicans' midterm election campaign.
Pete Marovich
Getty Images
Vice President Pence speaks during a campaign event for Pennsylvania congressional candidate Rick Saccone in February. Pence is playing a big role in Republicans' midterm election campaign.

In the shadow of President Trump's raucous campaign rallies this midterm election season are dozens of quieter campaign events and fundraisers headlined by Vice President Pence.

He's working to get Republicans elected this year, while quietly earning political capital that could help his own future.

At a weekend rally for South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster ahead of Tuesday's GOP primary runoff, Pence touted Trump's achievements in the same breath that he stumped for Republican candidates.

"You look at the last year-and-a-half of this administration and I gotta tell you, there's only one way you can describe it," Pence said, going on to sum up the administration's record: "Promises made and promises kept."

In front of the crowd gathered on a college campus near Myrtle Beach, Pence talked about tax cuts and job growth, issues Republican leaders want to focus on this year. But amid a heated debate over the separation of families crossing the U.S. border illegally, Pence only briefly alluded to immigration, prompting familiar chants of "build that wall!"

Unlike the president, who has sent mixed messages on immigration policy in recent days and often veers away from Republican talking points to embrace border security as a "good issue" for the GOP, Pence is known for being disciplined.

That means avoiding anything that might steal the spotlight from Trump.

He has been traveling the country, fundraising for Republican candidates and organizations, sometimes drawing several million dollars in a single trip. He's also holding events to urge GOP voters to turn out in November and maintain their congressional majorities.

"Republicans are very energetic right now," said Marc Lotter, a consultant to the Republican National Committee and Pence aide. "They see the positive momentum going on with the economy. They see the leadership that's being shown by the president on the world stage; they want to keep that."

As the election draws closer, Lotter said, the vice president will spend more time holding campaign rallies in strategically important areas, both for members of Congress and for Republican governors, several of whom face tough races this fall.

Much of Pence's midterm campaign travel is funded by his leadership PAC, the Great America Committee. Its creation has fueled speculation about Pence's own political ambitions.

Lotter said the vice president is focused on promoting President Trump and electing Republicans this year, allowing that it could benefit Pence in the long run.

"Any vice president, regardless of party, their political future — whatever that may or may not be — solely lies on the success of the president they serve," Lotter said. "And so in this case, the vice president is solely focused on the president and the president's agenda. And that success will determine everything for the vice president."

Pence has plenty to gain from the reputation and relationships he's building while stumping for Republicans across the country, said GOP pollster Chris Wilson.

"I think anytime somebody who's in elected office says they're not thinking about their political future, they probably should go to penance or make a donation to the church or something," Wilson said. "It's not likely that that calculation doesn't enter into the back of someone's mind. Whether it's making an endorsement, who they campaign for, or a dollar that they raise and a donor that they meet."

Pence unfailingly praises the president's success — no matter where he's campaigning, no matter for whom he's trying to energize a crowd or donors. Marjorie Hershey, a political scientist at Indiana University, notes that Trump is known for demanding loyalty — and so are GOP voters:

"That isn't a choice for Vice President Pence to make; he either is wholly loyal to the president or he doesn't have a future within the Trump party," Hershey said.

Whatever his long-term ambitions may be, Hershey said Pence has shown a skill for falling in line and staying on message — and not stepping too far out of Trump's shadow.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
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