Among New Hampshire Republicans, former Vice President Mike Pence’s decision to drop out of the 2024 presidential race was greeted with words of praise and disappointment — but not surprise.
“Vice President Pence is a man of faith and strong convictions. The United States would prosper under his godly leadership,” state Sen. Carrie Gendreau (R-Littleton) told NHJournal. The North Country lawmaker was one of the few New Hampshire Republicans to publicly endorse Pence.
Pence announced his decision at the end of a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas on Saturday.
“Traveling over the country over the past six months, I came here to say it’s become clear to me: This is not my time. So, after much prayer and deliberation, I have decided to suspend my campaign for president effective today.”
Both his former competitors and his New Hampshire fans heaped praise on Pence as “a man of character and integrity,” as former New Hampshire GOP vice chairman Matt Mayberry put it. “Our party is a little ‘less’ because he is not on the ballot.”
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, who has also made his Christian faith a key part of his candidacy, called Pence “a prayer partner and a friend,” adding, “I have no doubt Mike and Karen will continue to serve this nation and honor the Lord in all they do.”
But this emphasis on evangelicalism is also likely one reason Pence struggled in New Hampshire, one of the most secular states in the nation. (The Granite State regularly vies with Vermont for the lowest church attendance.) While Pence’s polls in evangelical-friendly Iowa and South Carolina weren’t great — hovering around 3 percent support — that was about twice the 1.4 percent he had in New Hampshire.
Another issue: Trump. Several longtime Republican operatives, both in New Hampshire and Washington, D.C., told NHJournal they were surprised Pence got into the race in the first place. While most were unwilling to speak on the record — mostly out of respect or affection for Pence — the consensus view was that Pence never had a path forward.
“Trump hated him. Never Trumpers hated him. Where was he supposed to find his voters?” one veteran strategist said.
Early on, Pence’s campaign team pointed to previous vice presidents and their success in the primary process. Joe Biden, Al Gore, George H. W. Bush, and Walter Mondale all won their party’s nominations. Now, Republicans say, Pence is where they predicted he’d be: In the Dan Quayle club.
Quayle’s failed 2000 presidential run lasted six months (he dropped out and endorsed George W. Bush), and he was never a serious contender.
What does Pence’s departure mean for the First in the Nation primary? Not much, says GOP strategist Michael Dennehy. “He didn’t have enough significant support to make a difference. The only pressure [on the rest of the field] appears to be around making the stage at the Miami debate.”
In a September CNN New Hampshire Primary Poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, Pence was the first choice of just two percent of Granite State Republicans and the second choice of just three percent.
He was second only to Chris Christie, however, on the list of candidates Granite State Republicans wouldn’t back “under any circumstances” at 42 percent.
Also worth noting are the responses of the remaining candidates competing for second place behind former President Trump. Only one — tireless Trump critic Chris Christie — mentioned the moment for which Pence has received the most praise and the one he made the centerpiece of his campaign: His refusal to interfere in the constitutional process of counting the Electoral College votes in the 2020 presidential race.
“Mike Pence stood for the Constitution of the United States. He deserves our thanks as Americans for putting his oath of office and the Constitution of the United States before personal and political pressure,” Christie said.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, on the other hand, limited his response to calling Pence “a principled man of faith who has worked tirelessly to advance the conservative cause.”
And Nikki Haley had a similar reaction. “We all owe him a debt of gratitude,” Haley said Saturday after Pence’s surprise announcement. “He’s a good man of faith, a good man of service…he has fought for America, and he has fought for Israel.”
It is unlikely Pence’s supporters would go to Trump, who offered a particularly ungracious farewell to his former vice president.
“He should endorse me,” Trump said Saturday. “I chose him, made him vice president. But people in politics can be very disloyal.”
The most natural shift for Pence voters, GOP operatives say, is to support Tim Scott. But that may be a very short-term solution, Dennehy said.
“I expect Tim Scott to be the next one to drop. His support has entirely collapsed, and he hasn’t qualified for the debate,” Dennehy said. The New York Times reported Scott hasn’t met the threshold to participate in the next debate, but the Scott campaign is saying he has.
“I’m now back to praying about who I should support,” Gendreau said.
State Sen. Tim Lang (R-Sanbornton), another New Hampshire Pence supporter, said it was “disappointing that a great conservative like Vice President Pence has dropped out of the presidential race.
“That being said, we still have some great candidates still in the race, and I look forward to them coming to New Hampshire to speak with local voters on why they are the best choice to lead our nation through what looks to be a rough next few years.
“As for me, I’m keeping my options open because God knows the answer isn’t four more years of Joe Biden!”