NEW YORK — According to Donald Trump’s assessment, Mike Pence “committed political suicide” on January 6, 2021.
By refusing to go along with the former president’s unconstitutional campaign to overturn the results of the 2020 election, Pence became a prime target of Trump’s wrath and a pariah in many Republican circles.
But the final weeks of the intensely competitive 2022 election suggest the former vice president’s fortunes have turned as he lays the groundwork for his own potential White House campaign in 2024.
The man who was booed at a conservative conference last year is now a sought-after replacement for Republican candidates, including some who spent their primaries obsessively seeking Trump’s endorsement, in part repeating Trump’s election lies.
Pence has been traveling the country, hosting events and raising millions for Republican candidates and groups, including signing fundraising solicitations for party committees.
For some campaigns in close races, Pence is seen as a neutralizing agent who can help broaden his appeal beyond Trump’s core support base. That includes Arizona, with a key Senate race on Nov. 8 and what is expected to be a hotly contested stop in the 2024 presidential campaign.
Last week, Pence endorsed Senate candidate Blake Masters, who has struggled to make it past the primary to win over moderates in a state where a third of voters are registered independents.
“It takes a little bit of the Masters advantage with a lot of voters,” said veteran Republican strategist Scott Reed. “You know Masters is new to this, first-time candidate, he said some dumb things that he’s probably going to regret during the campaign.”
However, the endorsements may seem jarring given that Pence spent much of the past year rejecting Trump’s election lies, inciting the violent mob that descended on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, 2021, as Pence attempted to chair the formal meeting of the Senate. Congress. certification of the presidential victory of Joe Biden. Pence and members of his family had to be herded to safety and held for hours in an underground loading dock as marauders roamed the halls, some yelling, “Hang Mike Pence!” and erected a makeshift gallows outside.
Masters, during the primaries, baselessly denied the 2020 results, recording a video in which he said he believed Trump had won. Masters stated on his website that “if we had had a free and fair election, President Trump would be sitting in the Oval Office today.”
Trump said when he endorsed Masters in June: “Blake knows the ‘Crime of the Century’ happened, he will expose it and also, he will never let it happen again.”
Pence did not mention that in Phoenix on Tuesday.
“What I came here to Arizona to say is not just that Blake Masters is the right choice for the United States Senate, the people of Arizona deserve to know that Blake Masters can be the difference between a Democratic majority in the Senate and a Democratic majority in the Senate. Republican in the Senate,” Pence said.
Pence, along with Masters and Gov. Doug Ducey, answered just three questions, two of them from conservative websites. When a television reporter pointed out that Masters had questioned the 2020 election, a spokesman for Masters interrupted him before he could finish his question.
Masters is not the only election denier that Pence has endorsed or helped.
Two days after the Masters event, Pence was in Georgia headlining a fundraiser for Burt Jones, the candidate for lieutenant governor. Not only did Jones accept Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud and call for a state investigation into the 2020 race, but she also signed on to be one of his state’s bogus surrogate electors, a scheme that is now under criminal investigation.
Last month, Pence campaigned in New Hampshire for Senate candidate Don Bolduc, a retired Army general who also spent his primary campaign telling voters that the 2020 race was stolen from Trump.
Marc Short, a longtime adviser to Pence, refused to draw a red line for candidates Pence would and would not endorse.
“It’s more about making sure he’s being a team player where he needs to be,” he said. “I think as many of these candidates are looking to solidify the party behind them, Pence can be helpful.”
There is no evidence of any widespread fraud or manipulation of voting machines in the 2020 election, which is highlighted in repeated audits, court cases, and the conclusions of Trump’s own Justice Department. Still, support for bogus election claims runs deep among Republican candidates this year.
Short said Pence was happy to support candidates who had moved beyond 2020, as he urged the party to do.
“If people recognized a wrong position earlier, they certainly want to reward that,” Short said. “I think he wants to help conservatives first and foremost, but if the people who were elected are now taking a new position on the events of January 6,” he said, “then that’s a good thing.”
Reed, the Republican strategist, said he was not surprised by the candidates Pence had chosen to endorse.
“He’s a big-picture party guy. And it doesn’t surprise me that he goes out of his way for people who may not be 100% Pencers,” Reed said. “By doing these kinds of events,” he added, “they’re going to look at him again if he decides to run.”
Associated Press writer Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix contributed to this report.
Follow the AP for full midterm election coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections and on Twitter, https://twitter.com/ap_politics