Pence tests water for potential presidential run during Chicago visit

Former Vice President Mike Pence on Monday offered President Joe Biden and Democrats warning shots during a Chicago speech widely seen as part of a test of the waters for a 2024 presidential run.

“The vast majority of Americans know our nation is on the wrong track. But I have every confidence that unless this administration changes course, and their allies in Congress change course dramatically, the American people are going to change leadership and change leadership very soon,” Pence said in a 40-minute speech at the University Club of Chicago.

Pence repeatedly praised the work of the “Trump-Pence” administration — just days after his former chief of staff and White House counsel testified before the House January 6 Committee that Trump had repeatedly pressured Pence to delay or reject the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory , something Pence refused to do.

Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the University Club of Chicago on Monday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Pence is traveling the country in what is seen as an attempt to lay the groundwork to launch a potential presidential bid—focusing on his Republican economic agenda as Biden and Democrats struggle with multiple economic crises.

Within his own party, Pence is alternately viewed as either a hero or a villain for his certification of the 2020 election. Many Trump loyalists see it as a betrayal and want the former president to run again in 2024, while others credit the vice president with doing the right thing under intense pressure.

Pence is also doing his best to separate himself since January 6, which is fresh in the minds of Americans after hours of testimony featured on television. In his speech, Pence called January 6 “a tragic day in our nation’s capital” and called the 2020 election “divisive.”

More than two-thirds of Illinois GOP voters believe Trump actually won the 2020 election, according to a Sun-Times/WBEZ Poll conducted earlier this month. And nearly two-thirds of those surveyed believed Trump should run again in 2024.

On Monday, Pence did his best to shift the attention to what he sees as Trump’s strengths and Biden’s weaknesses, lamenting that the work done during the previous administration is being undone. Pence blamed the Democratic president for everything from a rise in gas and food prices, to low wages, a failing stock market, high rent and the baby formula shortage.

Former Vice President Mike Pence sounds out potential presidential campaign themes at an event at the University Club of Chicago on Monday.

Former Vice President Mike Pence sounds out potential presidential campaign themes at an event at the University Club of Chicago on Monday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“That confidence and pride that were once synonymous with the American people in recent years has been replaced with fear and a national anxiety,” Pence said. “So let me say, to quote the old book, ‘Fear is useless.’ What is needed is leadership grounded in American values.”

While Biden admitted in an Associated Press interview last week that people are “really, really down” amid the pandemic and rising prices, the president said a recession is not inevitable and touted a low national unemployment rate as a reason for hope.

Besides bashing Biden, Pence also took a shot at Illinois.

The former Indiana governor said that as a neighbor to the east, he’s paying attention to companies leaving the state.

“Back when I was governor, I loved competing with Illinois for jobs. It’s what we call easy pickings,” he said to laughs. “But honestly, as a fellow Midwesterner, it broke my heart to hear that Caterpillar and Boeing were moving out of Illinois.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence at the University Club of Chicago on Monday.

Former Vice President Mike Pence at the University Club of Chicago on Monday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Pence offered up his own economic plan, which includes extending “Trump-Pence” tax cuts, ending “runaway inflation” by slashing government spending, requiring a balanced federal budget without raising taxes and overhauling the federal permitting process for energy infrastructure.

The former vice president also said Biden must stand up to the “totally extreme elements of his own party.”

“Those who advocate the radical left agenda, more taxes, more regulation, less American energy and open borders,” Pence said. “And enough is enough. Time for Joe Biden to keep his oath from him. And tell those elements of his own party about him, ‘I serve all the American people, and we are going to pursue policies that will make America strong and prosperous and free again.’”

Prior to Pence’s speech, the Democratic Party of Illinois blasted out a statement calling it part of the Republican’s “redemption tour.”

“But there is no chance Illinoisans will forget the catastrophic four years of the Trump/Pence Administration or their ultra-MAGA agenda,” party spokesman Jake Lewis said, touting that Illinois Democrats are defending reproductive rights, lowering costs, growing jobs and protecting the environment.

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