For two of the newest entrants into the presidential race, the location of their announcements was as revealing as their message.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie launched his bid Tuesday evening in New Hampshire, where he will start to court the state’s pragmatic moderates. A day later, former Vice President Mike Pence formally announced his presidential bid in Iowa focusing on a different key constituency: evangelical voters. The contrast demonstrates the differing tacks the two men are taking as the race grows more crowded.
For Christie, New Hampshire is a natural fit. As other candidates in the race have been cautious about criticizing former President Donald Trump, who remains a dominant force in the Republican Party, Christie has signaled that he will have no such qualms. To make any headway in the primary, he’ll need to court voters who are willing to hear him out and New Hampshire is as good a place as any to find them. Voters in the state are known to be independent-minded.
Given that the state is a potential battleground next November, New Hampshire Republicans are also sure to be considering the pitfalls of another Trump candidacy in a general election. And they’re ready to listen to the contenders who take the time to talk to them.
“I think that our voters resonate with a candidate who comes in and does town halls, talks to individual people and answers questions in an unfiltered way,” says New Hampshire GOP Chair Chris Ager.
That could be especially beneficial for Christie, who is barely registering in the polls so far and will have to be especially strategic in where he uses his resources.
“If a candidate wants to be noticed early, you don’t need as much money to get your message out in New Hampshire,” Ager says. “It’s not a big, very expensive media market.”
New Hampshire was a centerpiece of Christie’s previous campaign for president in 2016. The former New Jersey governor kicked off that bid with almost a dozen events in the Granite State. Ultimately, he dropped out of the race after performing poorly in the state. One factor was “Bridgegate,” the lane closure scandal involving members of his gubernatorial administration, which New Hampshire voters criticized him for way back in 2016.
Asked about what issue will matter most to New Hampshire Republicans this cycle, Ager immediately replies, “Number one is winning.” He then adds that the state “I think New Hampshire “has a very fiscally responsible electorate, and our government reflects that. ,” Ager continues. I think that’s going to be the top issue. And there is concern about foreign entanglements and how the prestige of the U.S. in decline could embolden some of our enemies.”
Iowa Republicans are similarly known for being independent-minded and often focused on how candidates discuss the economy. But for Pence, the state’s evangelical constituency is particularly appealing as he launches his 2024 bid.
The former Vice President was the governor of Indiana when Trump picked as his running mate in 2016, partly to help win over religious conservatives wary of the celebrity businessman. Eight years later, Pence has maintained his ultraconservative reputation, especially when it comes to abortion.
As other Republicans have taken more measured stances on the issue after the fall of Roe v. Wade, Pence has said he would back “any pro-life legislation that Congress would take up” and that, “We must not rest and must not relent until the sanctity of life is restored to the center of American law in every state in the land.”
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That kind of positioning could help Pence in the Hawkeye State given the large evangelical constituency there. Back in 2016, two-thirds of Iowa caucus-goers were evangelicals, compared to only about one quarter of Republican primary voters in New Hampshire. The state is also more Republican-leaning than New Hampshire in general.
Gloria Mazza, chair of the Republican Party of Polk County, Iowa’s most populous, tells TIME that she saw Pence at a party fundraiser last month and at the annual Roast and Ride political rally this past weekend.
“He’s very well liked and very well respected here,” Mazza says. “A lot of people understand what happened. He was a great leader as far as a vice president.”
Pence’s reputation with Trump voters took a hit after the two men split over the validity of the 2020 election results and the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. On that day, Trump falsely told supporters that Pence had the power to return Trump to the presidency. Later, some members of the pro-Trump mob that stormed the building issued chants of “Hang Mike Pence.”
The Hawkeye State could be the perfect place for him to reestablish himself; one Iowa Republican strategist who spoke to TIME said that they were surprised and impressed by the support Pence has already built in the state.
As polling shows Trump remains the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, Pence is making clear to Iowa voters that they have the power to change the narrative.
“I believe as conservatives, men and women, you have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to shape the leadership of this party in ways that will shape the nation as never before,” Pence told Iowa voters on Saturday.
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