URBANDALE, IOWA -- In what appears to be the unofficial start to the next race for president, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in Iowa on Friday, becoming the first potential 2024 Republican White House hopeful to visit one of the four early voting caucus and primary states that kick off the presidential nominating calendar.
But the former congressman from Kansas who served as CIA director and then as America’s top diplomat during the Trump administration said that the mission of his trip – and others he’s making to states across the country – is to help the GOP win back the majorities in the House and Senate in the 2022 midterm elections.
As he spoke and took questions for over an hour at a breakfast hosted by the Westside Conservative Club in Urbandale, just west of the capital city of Des Moines, Pompeo said to applause that he and his wife decided that they "were going to make sure that the [Democrats'] total control of Washington, D.C. was as short-lived as humanly possible."
Pompeo, a West Point graduate who served five years as U.S. Army officer and among other things led a tank platoon in what was then West Germany, pointed out that he’s been traveling to help fellow Republicans in Texas, Nebraska, and now in Iowa.
"These elections in 2022 will have a real impact on how 2024 ultimately goes as well and it’s why I’m out here today. It’s why I’m going to continue to go out and campaign," he emphasized. "If we get 2022 right, 2024 will solve itself."
But acknowledging that a stop in Iowa, whose caucuses for a half-century have led off the presidential nominating calendar, would spark plenty of 2024 speculation, Pompeo said to laughter: "I’m headed down to Alabama, which I think will provide cover for coming to Iowa."
Asked by a member of the crowd if it was "time for a third West Point graduate to be president" (Gens. Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower each went on to serve two terms in the White House), Pompeo responded, "Gen. Eisenhower was a great Kansan. That’s my answer."
Pompeo’s stop in the Hawkeye State comes amid potential push by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to overturn GOP Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa's razor-thin victory in November's election.
Miller-Meeks defeated Democrat Rita Hart by just six votes out of nearly 400,000 cast to represent Iowa's 2nd Congressional District, which covers most of the southeastern part of the state. It was the closest margin of any U.S. election in nearly half a century.
Hart is challenging the results – which were certified by the state following a recount – as she points to 22 discarded ballots she says would have made her the winner if they were counted. But rather than go through Iowa’s courts, she asked the Committee on House Administration to investigate.
Pelosi provisionally seated Miller-Meeks in January when the full House was sworn in. Asked two weeks ago by reporters if she might potentially remove Miller-Meeks and seat Hart, Pelosi said "there could be a scenario to that extent."
Republicans have been railing against the possible push by Democrats to overturn the Iowa election and Pompeo told the conservative crowd that they were all "a living part of it."
"You all are living the part where they’re going to try and steal the seat from an Iowa congresswoman," he said. "Don’t let it happen. Don’t’ let it happen. This is outrageous."
Pompeo also railed against the congressional Democrats' wide-ranging election reform and campaign finance bill – which has already passed the Democrat controlled House along a party lines.
"Watch what the Democrats are doing. This is a raw power grab," Pompeo highlighted.
But Democrats have said their measure is needed to combat the push by GOP lawmakers in some states where Republicans control the governor’s office and the legislature to pass bills that would tighten voting laws, which Democrats characterize as voter suppression. Pompeo pointed to one of those Republican bills ‒ the one signed into law on Thursday by Georgia GOP Gov. Brian Kemp ‒ calling it "a good one."
Pompeo, a strong Trump supporter, also spotlighted that he saw the former president "maybe three weeks ago now, and we were talking about how we move forward, how we make sure that elections are fair and free."
Trump, who was defeated in the 2020 presidential election by now-President Joe Biden, has repeatedly been flirting with a 2024 presidential run to try and return to the White House. Trump, who remains incredibly popular with GOP base voters, is the clear favorite in early 2024 GOP presidential nomination polls — including a new one this week in Iowa.
That means potential 2024 GOP White House hopefuls like Pompeo have to step gingerly during these extremely early days in the next presidential race. The speech and Q&A session in Urbandale was the only Pompeo event during his trip that was open to the media.
But Pompeo hasn’t been shy in recent interviews on Fox News about discussing his likely national aspirations.
"I care deeply about America," Pompeo told host Sean Hannity. "You and I have been part of the conservative movement for an awfully long time now. I aim to keep at it."
Hannity said he would take Pompeo’s answer as "a strong maybe," to which Pompeo responded, "That’s perfect."
And two weeks ago he tweeted the number of days until the 2024 presidential election, sparking more speculation.
On Friday, Pompeo touted his hard line as secretary of state against China. He warned that "the Chinese communist party wants to undermine the way we think about the world. They’ll use ever tool that they have."
He showcased that during his tenure, "we saw that they (China) were conducting espionage and we closed, I closed their consulate in Houston."
And he spotlighted the Abraham Accords, the deal struck last year by the Trump foreign policy team between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, which normalized diplomatic relations.
With an obvious eye to Iowa’s evangelicals, a key base among Iowa Republicans Pompeo said "as an evangelical Christian, the importance of Israel cannot be overstated."
"I am convinced that the relationships that were built and the policies that have now been put in place and the work that so many of were engaged in will reshape the landscape of the middle east for the next generation," Pompeo emphasized. "I’m really proud of that work. It wouldn’t have happened without President Trump giving us all the greenlight to work on this problem in what was admittedly a counter-establishment way."
Also playing to the audience, Pompeo didn’t miss an opportunity to spotlight that his wife was born in Iowa City.
But he mistakenly called Iowa the "first in the nation pirmary" state. Iowa holds the first caucus. New Hampshire, which votes a week after Iowa, for a century's held the first-in-the nation presidential primary.
Pompeo on Monday headlines a virtual fundraiser being organized by the New Hampshire GOP for a Republican candidate running in a special state legislative election.
Pompeo isn’t the only potential GOP White House hopeful making the early trip to Iowa.
Sen. Rick Scott of Florida ‒ in his role as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee [the Senate GOP’s reelection arm] ‒ heads to the state next week. And Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina travels to Iowa for an event on April 15.