Mike Pence gears up for potential 2024 bid in New Hampshire, a key early voting state

CONCORD, N.H. – Former Vice President Mike Pence portrayed a nation in decline and in desperate need of a new leader, albeit without naming himself Tuesday evening in New Hampshire where the first 2024 GOP primary will be held.

"The failed policies of the Biden administration have caused the American dream to slip further and further out of reach," Pence said to over a hundred attendees at a dinner hosted by a New Hampshire-based think tank in one of his strongest signals he is preparing to launch a White House bid.

“People look at me and say, think we can get it back? Think we can turn it around? I always look at it with confidence and say, we're gonna get it all back and then some, you just watch." Pence continued. “All we need is leadership."

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Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the Federalist Society Executive Branch Review conference, Tuesday, April 25, 2023, in Washington.

Pence could have ground to make up with voters in New Hampshire

If Pence steps into the GOP field, he could have a lot of ground to make up. The former vice president is polling at just 3% among likely GOP primary voters, according to a poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire in April.

Leading the pack is former President Donald Trump, with a wide lead of 42%. Behind Trump with 22% support is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to soon formally announce his presidential campaign. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3%.

Pence touts Trump White House achievements

Despite Trump being the candidate to beat in the 2024 race, Pence opted not to go after his former boss in his remarks or separate his own achievements from Trump’s. Instead, he touted his accomplishments with Trump as his vice president and said the next Republican president should make permanent Trump’s 2017 tax overhaul, which is set to expire in 2025.

Pence framed the country as a nation in economic peril until he and Trump took office.

"We renewed America's prosperity not by accident but by choice," Pence said, pointing to near 40-year-record high inflation last year. Biden "squandered" the economy he inherited from him and Trump, he added.

Pence will still have to differentiate himself from Trump before GOP primary voters if he decides to jump in the race. After his remarks, he told reporters he sees no awkwardness in running against his former boss and added he has "debated Donald Trump many times, just not with the cameras on."

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Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks to members of the crowd at an awards dinner hosted by the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy in Concord, N.H., on Tuesday, May 16, 2023.

Pence: Social Security and Medicare driver of 'runaway government spending'

With Social Security and Medicare at risk in the next decade due to looming shortfalls, 2024 presidential candidates have had trouble confronting the realities of the entitlement programs with specifics due to the vast popularity of the safety nets among voters. The solutions, either raising taxes or reeling back the benefits, are intensely unpopular with voters.

While Pence did not give specifics, he railed against government spending and described Social Security and Medicare as a major driver behind "runaway government spending.” He invoked his three granddaughters and said he cannot avoid the programs' unclear future.

"They're saying, we're not even gonna talk about it. Common sense and compassion are forms of entitlements. But I can't look at those little granddaughters in the eye and do that," Pence said. "I can't say that this is your problem and not ours. I can't leave them with those hard choices."

Pence pinned the program's near-insolvency on President Joe Biden and other GOP candidates for not confronting the issue on the campaign trail.

“Joe Biden’s policy is insolvency. Some of the leading candidates who come through New Hampshire's policies are the same.” Pence said.

For his part, Biden's proposed budget would extend Medicare's solvency by raising tax rates for people earning over $400,000. Biden has promised to protect Social Security as well, but that same budget did not outline any plan to address the programs' eventual insolvency.

Pence also went after Trump for his similar pledges to protect Social Security and Medicare.

"Frankly, my former running mate's policy is exactly the same (as Joe Biden's)," Pence told reporters. "I think they're both wrong."

Pence has previously signaled openness to cutting the programs earlier in February, saying on CNBC that Social Security and Medicare should be “on the table in the long term."

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In this file photo taken on April 26, 2023 former US Vice President Mike Pence speaks about "Saving America from the Woke Left," at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Pence supporters launch 2024 Super PAC

Pence’s visit to the Granite State is not the only signal he is readying himself for a White House bid. Another sign that he is preparing a presidential campaign: supporters have formed an outside "super political action committee" to support his candidacy.In a statement, the Super PAC that calls itself “Committed to America” said it is "dedicated to encouraging Vice President Mike Pence to run for President of the United States."

Co-chair Scott Reed, who managed Bob Dole's presidential campaign in 1996, said Pence's "experience and policy credentials are unmatched in the Republican field."

Pence and aides said they expect to make some kind of 2024 announcement next month.

Former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence answers questions at a luncheon sponsored by the UVU Gary R. Herbert Institute of Public Policy on April 28, 2023 at the Zion Bank headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Contributing: David Jackson

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mike Pence: Social Security and Medicare cause of 'runaway spending'