Former Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday, April 19 touted the energy accomplishments of the Trump administration to a friendly audience at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda.
Pence, a former Indiana governor who said he grew up in “a gas station family” and worked as a gas station attendant, said he has always felt “a personal connection to American energy.”
Standing before a packed ballroom, Pence said “U.S. energy independence” achieved under the Trump/Pence administration created American jobs and bolstered the U.S. military.
“For decades, America lived at the mercy of foreign energy suppliers,” he said. “We need a strong energy sector in America harnessing the God-given resources and unleashing them to our people.”
Pence, who has been giving speeches nationally for several months, is widely expected to formally launch a presidential run. And, with 2024 on the horizon, at least one political analyst suggested energy could be a way for Pence to remind Republican voters about his part in Trump-era policies without being seen as too connected personally to the polarizing former president.
Pence is “trying to find a way to thread the needle of touting his work on conservative causes as vice president while distinguishing and separating himself from Donald Trump,” said Stephen Stambaugh, a Cal State Fullerton political science professor.
“If he’s going to be successful, he will need to find an issue that captivates the public,” Stambaugh added. “Energy policy has some potential for that due to gas prices and inflation even though he’s a little late to that debate.”
On Wednesday, Pence placed the blame for inflation and rising gas prices on the current administration. In Yorba Linda, the price for a gallon of regular gas at a Chevron near where Pence spoke was $4.99, more than $1 higher than the current national average of $3.68, according to the American Automobile Association.
Pence also took shots at the Biden administration’s energy policy, such as efforts to bring electric vehicle charging stations to U.S. roads. He drew cheers when he said “President Biden has weakened America at home and abroad. The time has come for America to return to the policies that will drive American growth and American strength and it begins with American energy.”
While there was no mention from Pence on Wednesday of a potential White House bid, Orange County has become a destination point for possible GOP presidential hopefuls.
Earlier in the week, the former vice president spoke at an event in Anaheim Hills for Project 370, a Lincoln Institute program that supports conservative activists on California’s college campuses.
Thank you @TheInstituteCA for a wonderful evening! @KarenPence and I were honored to be with you all! The work you’re doing with Project 307 to build and strengthen the Conservative presence at the top 307 culturally-influential colleges and universities is inspiring! pic.twitter.com/hM6LUu5c5y
— Mike Pence (@Mike_Pence) April 19, 2023
Pence also appeared at an event by the Orange County chapter of the Republican donor group New Majority to promote his book, “So Help Me God.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, another possible candidate who has not formally declared a presidential run, also recently swung through Southern California, including a March visit to Orange County. And former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson launched his presidential bid last month, two weeks after he swung through Orange County to meet with local Republicans. Hutchinson also headlined an event at the Nixon Library and met with members of New Majority.
Former President Trump and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, two Republican candidates who have formally announced their bids, have not stopped by Orange County this year.
“We have reached out to every announced and potential candidate to partner on events when they come to Orange County,” said Randall Avila, executive director of the Republican Party of Orange County.
Recent polling by the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies found about 37% of California’s registered Republican voters prefer DeSantis while 29% pick Trump. Haley and Pence trail the two, with 7% and 3%, respectively.
Pence is expected to make a 2024 announcement soon: He said in late March that he is “getting closer to a decision.”
Last week, top Republican hopefuls for the 2024 presidential race, including Pence, gathered at the National Rifle Association’s annual conference, all vowing to defend gun rights. It was the first time both Trump and Pence appeared at the same campaign event on the same day since their estrangement following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. The former vice president drew scattered boos as he started speaking, despite the conference being held in Indianapolis, his home turf.
In Orange County Wednesday, Pence closed his speech to a standing ovation.
Pence has been talking about energy frequently of late. He recently spoke about American energy independence at the Rockies Petroleum Conference in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and, last year, he talked energy at Rice University’s Baker Institute of Public Policy in Houston.
“Some people campaign for the presidency to win, and some run to pursue other goals,” said Matthew Beckmann, a UC Irvine political science professor. “Giving speeches in Wyoming about energy policy feels more like the latter than the former.”
“Running gives him a platform to boost his profile, engage key people and otherwise stay relevant in ways that are impossible when you are just ‘former vice president,’” Beckmann said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.