In demand as top GOP surrogate, Pence kicks off busy summer with Iowa stop

Motorcycles, cornfields, pork roast and, of course, politics.

Vice President Mike Pence kicked off his summer campaign schedule Saturday by appearing at Sen. Joni Ernst’s Roast and Ride fundraiser, his debut into a season his advisers believe will be very busy as he helps Republicans raise money and lends a hand to GOP candidates.

His aides vehemently brush away any talk of a 2020 presidential bid. But Pence — who is significantly less unpopular than President Donald Trump — is a natural on the stump and delivers a disciplined message, even repeating large sections of his stump speech from the campaign trail on Saturday in Iowa.

At the event in Boone, Iowa, Pence arrived riding a motorcycle, donning a white helmet and wearing blue jeans.

“I just couldn’t have been more proud this week to be standing with the President, who chose to put American workers and American jobs first, who chose to put American energy and American industry first,” Pence said. “I want to submit to you by withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, President Donald Trump chose to put the forgotten men and women of America first, and he always will.”

Next, the vice president is slated to keynote a National Republican Congressional Dinner next week in Washington. He’ll also appear at a Republican National Committee event in Chicago midsummer and he’ll be doing “several events” with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said a senior Pence adviser.

Pence is no stranger to hitting the road in his official capacity as vice president. Four weekends in a row in the spring, he was burning rubber as he visited Trump campaign strongholds like West Virginia and Ohio. Several of those weekends, the President hung back in Washington and Florida, visiting his Trump golf courses.

The senior Pence adviser said Iowa — the first-in-the-nation caucus state in the presidential primary calendard — was a natural invitation to accept when Ernst asked him to join her at her annual Roast and Ride event.

“It’s certainly a pivotal state and one that we’ve partnered with their leaders on lots of things,” the adviser said.

The Trump administration viewed the state’s other Republican senator, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, as a major ally in the Neil Gorsuch Supreme Court confirmation process. Ernst has been “a partner on several things,” the adviser said, and former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad is Trump’s pick as ambassador to China.

“This is the point when the energy starts to pick up,” the adviser added.

The requests have been pouring in for appearances by the vice president, according to his team, but his advisers aim for quality over quantity.

“Where will he have an impact?” one longtime adviser asked.

The answer, Pence’s team thinks, will be in competitive races, such as Georgia’s special election, where Republican Karen Handel is facing a heated runoff contest with Democrat Jon Ossoff.

Also expect Pence to be out campaigning with the Republican Virginia gubernatorial candidate, a race that’s already gaining national attention.

“We don’t want to wait until next spring to weigh in on the midterms,” another longtime adviser to Pence said. This person described an effort to build a “war chest” now so that there are ample funds to carry them into 2018.

Pence polls significantly better than the President. In a CNN/ORC poll taken near the end of Trump’s first 100 days in office, Pence was polling at a slightly higher favorability than the President — 46% versus 44% — but his unfavorability was significantly lower: 39% to the President’s 54%.

In his capacity as vice President, Pence will still promote the Trump administration’s agenda, a spokesman said, selling its tax reform plan and attending town halls.

“It’s a great way for the vice president to support the President in a deliberate way,” one adviser said.

Or, as one of Pence’s longtime advisers put it: “What’s good for the President is good for us.”

But, the adviser then added, “It’s never a bad idea to build relationships.”