There have been numerous articles written since the 2020 presidential election – including one from this reporter – on whether former President Trump’s repeated teasing of another White House bid is freezing the field in the race for the 2024 Republican nomination.
While Trump remains very popular with the base of the GOP, and polls at this extremely early point in the 2024 presidential cycle indicate that the former president is the overwhelming front runner in the nomination race, his immense clout is not preventing other potential Republican White House hopefuls from visiting the states that kick off the presidential primary and caucus calendar.
"If you want to run for president, you need to be laying the ground work right now," longtime Republican strategist Alex Conant told Fox News. "That doesn’t guarantee that you will be running for president but since the field is potentially very open and very competitive, it’s important to get started early."
Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas traveled to Iowa this weekend, his second visit so far this summer to the state whose caucuses for half a century have kicked off the presidential nominating process. And former Vice President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have already made stops this year in Iowa, New Hampshire – which for a century’s held the first-in-the-nation primary and votes second in the nominating calendar, and South Carolina, which holds the third contest in the GOP schedule.
"While Trump has staked his claim in 2024, many candidates are still entering states like Iowa and New Hampshire in an attempt to lay down the ground game of a potential candidacy," New Hampshire Institute of Politics executive director Neil Levesque noted.
So far this year there have been ten trips to Iowa by eight potential Republican presidential contenders, the exact same numbers as there were in 2013, at this early point in the wide open GOP nomination race in the 2016 cycle. And four possible GOP White House hopefuls have stopped in New Hampshire so far this year, compared to trips by five potential contenders at this point eight years ago.
"Clearly anyone who’s going to Iowa or New Hampshire right now wants to be president. By going now, they’re keeping the option to run open," Conant, a veteran Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida’s 2016 presidential campaign and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s 2012 GOP nomination bid," said.
Even though Trump is headed to Iowa next month, and repeatedly flirts with launching a 2024 presidential campaign – telling Fox News in a recent interview that "I don't think we're going to have a choice" - Conant said that most of the other possible contenders "are gambling that Trump doesn’t end up running."
The potential candidates visiting the early voting states this year all say in unison that the trips are on behalf of fellow Republicans running in the 2022 midterms, when the GOP aims to win back majorities in the House and Senate.
But Levesque noted that while "early on in a president cycle candidates enter states under the guise of helping a fellow candidate from their party, the truth is they’re generally laying the ground work for a presidential campaign."
And with the potential contenders all hoping to avoid appearing like they’re challenging Trump, emphasizing their efforts to help fellow Republicans has become more essential than ever.
"As long as people have been going to Iowa and New Hampshire, they’ve been denying that they’re running president. Trump makes that even more important, that you don’t seem over eager to run since nobody wants to get on his wrong side," Conant pointed out.
But that story line expires in just over 13 months. After the 2022 midterms, those trips to Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada are 100% about 2024.
Pence expands team, plans return trips to key states
Pence has been among the busiest Republicans crisscrossing the country this year, campaigning and helping fundraise on behalf of fellow Republicans.
Fox News confirms that the former vice president is planning return trips in the coming months to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. And he recently opened a new office space in the nation’s capital for his non-profit group, Advancing American Freedom, doubled his political and policy team to around 20 people, and added veteran Republican GOP and conservative fundraiser John Fogarty. The news was first reported by CNN.
People in Pence’s inner orbit also confirm to Fox News that the former vice president would make a decision on launching a campaign for the White House independent of whomever else may or may run
"If he feels called to do this," an adviser close to Pence told Fox News, "it's not going to be because of who else is in the race."
Cotton stops in Iowa
Cotton stopped in Iowa this weekend, his second trip to the Hawkeye State this year.
The senator on Friday headlined the Pottawattamie County GOP's Lincoln Reagan Dinner, and met with Iowa farmers at a roundtable discussion. And on Saturday he helped kick off a tailgate event for Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who won election last November by just six votes and could face a challenging reelection next year.
Pompeo, Christie land new roles
As Fox News first reported on Thursday, The National Republican Redistricting Trust (NRRT), in an announcement shared first with Fox News, said that former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will serve as national co-chairs of the organization. The NRRT is the Republican Party’s GOP’s primary organization to coordinate the party’s redistricting strategy and build resources for its legal defense.
Christie, a veteran of the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, told Fox News "anybody who’s thinking about 2024 should be spending their time helping people in 2022 because our part will not be in best position to elect a president unless and until we get at least one house of Congress back."
And he said that the GOP wining the White House in 2024 is "a heck of a lot easier if you’re on a winning streak. If we take back the House of Representatives, which I’m confident if this process goes well that we will – then it makes it a lot easier to set an agenda and have that Republican House start talking about the things that Republicans would do if they were given the White House and the Senate back."
Pompeo, a Fox News contributor, emphasized that "if we have the House and the Senate, then it will be a platform for us to make sure our message can be delivered and you can see the difference between the two parties. And I’m convinced that will set up 2024 very well for us."