COLUMBIA, S.C. – Former Vice President Mike Pence is making yet another visit to South Carolina, giving the commencement address at a Christian university in the early-voting state where Republican candidates often aim to drum up support among white evangelical voters.
Columbia International University said Pence will speak to graduates on April 30.
CIU is headed by Mark Smith, whose relationship with Pence dates back more than a decade, to Pence's time as a U.S. House member and governor of Indiana, where Smith once lived and served as vice president for adult and graduate studies at Indiana Wesleyan University.
In a piece posted to CIU's website after Smith attended a 2018 “Faith Leaders Dinner” hosted by Pence, the educator called him “a man of deep faith who will give all to fight for traditional family values.” On Friday, Smith told The Associated Press that he asked Pence not to give a political speech but to “come and share ideas about how his life has been shaped by his faith.”
Pence has been ramping up his visits to South Carolina, which holds the first presidential primaries in the South. Candidates of both major parties typically spend time in the state more than a year before those votes, introducing themselves and trying to secure support.
The graduation is just a week before Pence's keynote address at a fundraising dinner for the Carolina Pregnancy Center in Spartanburg, which offers Christian counseling and adoption services, and free supplies to women who opt to have babies following unplanned pregnancies.
Nearly a year ago, Pence chose the fundraiser of another conservative Christian nonprofit in South Carolina for his first public address since the end of the Trump administration.
Since leaving office, Pence has worked to construct a post-White House operation that includes a political advocacy group, speeches, fundraising and shoring up relationships that could help him should he choose to run for president in 2024.
Much of that has included efforts at deepening his appeal to his white evangelical Christian base, as well as supporters of former President Donald Trump and those who may have been fond of his policies but not his style.
Pence strives to draw contrasts between himself and Trump, whom he could possibly face in a 2024 GOP primary. Last week, Pence directly rebutted Trump's false claims that as vice president he somehow could have overturned the results of the 2020 election, saying the former president was simply “wrong.”
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.