Pence largely avoids Jan. 6, Trump as he rallies GOP to present a 'positive' conservative vision for the future in Peoria speech
Former Vice President Mike Pence presented a bullish forecast for Republican chances up and down the ballot in the upcoming 2022 elections during a speech largely bereft of direct references to former President Donald Trump, or the Jan. 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill.
Pence was the keynote speaker at the Peoria and Tazewell County Republican Lincoln Day Dinner at the Peoria Civic Center on Monday.
Pence may be eyeing a presidential run in 2024, but his role in certifying Biden's 2020 electoral victory has become a focal point of testimony in the ongoing House Select Committee hearings on the Capitol insurrection - namely, his reported resistance to an unconstitutional pressure campaign by President Donald Trump to overturn the election results.
Pence offered up only brief allusions to those events, recalling "a divisive election" and "a tragic day in our nation's capitol" as examples of difficult events over the past couple years leading into a wind-up attack on President Biden's administration for "driving our country into the abyss of a social welfare state every day."
Speaking to an audience of nearly 700 Illinois Republicans, the former vice president implored the party to present a positive conservative vision for the country as they seek to take back control of Congress.
"I think Republicans have a once in a lifetime opportunity, if we'll simply hold the banner of conservative values high, and unapologetically," Pence said. "And the truth is, the American people, American people want their lives back. They want their freedom back, they want their country back. And it falls to the Republican Party to win it back for the American people."
The former vice president and Indiana governor touted acts of the "Trump/Pence administration," such as the US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and the appointment of three conservative justices to a U.S. Supreme Court now poised to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
He also criticized the "economic decline and moral decay" he claims the Biden administration offers up, alluding to record inflation and "woke left" social policies like critical race theory, which he likened to state-sponsored racism.
Pence said the current national climate towards Democrats feels a lot like the 2010 "red wave," when Republicans gained a historic 63 seats in the U.S. House and seven Senate seats.
"This is not just an opportunity to win. This is an opportunity to set the table for a realignment election in America. One that doesn't come along every generation that comes along in many multiples of generations," he said. "I really believe that in 2022, we have an opportunity to elect women and men across this country from the statehouse, to the people's house, who will lay a foundation to win America back in 2024."
U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Dunlap) agreed, calling 2022 "the most important election of our lifetimes."
"What a disaster this country is turned into. And I don't say that lightly. I was at Joe Biden's inauguration a year and a half ago. And I heard him talk about governing in the middle and being a moderate and moving the country forward," LaHood said. "And here we are today at an inflection point. I've never seen things worse in this country, right?"
LaHood, the finance chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the GOP campaign arm is targeting 75 different House races this cycle. That includes Esther Joy King, the Republican running for the 17th Congressional District again after a narrow loss to retiring U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Moline) in 2020.
It also includes candidates like Mayra Flores, the Texas Republican who flipped a longtime Democratic stronghold.
"So what I tell you is there's something going on in this country right now. So we have great candidates. We're raising a record amount of money. And we're working all across the country to change the dynamics in Washington, D.C.," LaHood said.
Media attending Monday's Lincoln Day Dinner were barricaded from the rest of the dining room by stanchions and ropes. Pence did not speak to journalists, though he did hold a closed press meet and greet with event VIP sponsors prior to his address.