The former US vice president Mike Pence launched his presidential bid on Wednesday with an attack on his former boss and rival Donald Trump.
He will challenge 76-year-old Mr Trump to become the Republican nominee to take on Joe Biden, becoming the first vice president in modern history to take on his former running mate.
At his launch rally in Iowa, Mr Pence alleged that Mr Trump had “demanded” he choose between personal loyalty and the Constitution while attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
He largely played down policy differences with Mr Trump, adding that he was “proud” of their work to “make America great again” despite their “different visions for the future of our nation and our party”.
But Mr Pence accused his former boss of being “reckless” amid the insurrection by Trump supporters at the Capitol in January 2021, when Mr Pence was in the Senate certifying the election result.
He said: “January 6 was a tragic day in the life of our nation, but thanks to the courage of law enforcement, violence was quelled and we reconvened Congress the very same day, to complete the work of the American people under the constitution.
“President Trump’s words were reckless, they endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol. The American people deserve to know that on that day, President Trump demanded I choose between him and the Constitution.
“Voters will be faced with the same choice. I chose the constitution, and I always will.”
In his speech, Mr Pence described himself as a “Christian, conservative and Republican, in that order” who would champion “the right to life and freedom of religion” as he railed against the “radical left”.
A diehard opponent of abortion, Mr Pence did not weigh in on an evangelical push for country-wide abortion restrictions, but hinted he would appoint more judges that “stand for the sanctity of human life” – a step that threatens to further erode abortion access even in Democratic-controlled states.
He also trumpeted his role under Mr Trump in helping appoint Supreme Court justices who sent abortion access ruling Roe vs Wade “to the ash heap of history, where it belongs”.
Emphasising his evangelical beliefs, he added: “Timeless American values are under assault every day. In classrooms, our children are indoctrinated into radical ideologies and even taught to hate our history.
“From boardrooms, our faith and beliefs are insulted routinely, while government agencies target concerned parents and punish consumers in the name of social justice.”
“We will reject radical propaganda and demand respect for our history and religious freedom,” he added.
Mr Pence took further potshots at Mr Trump and Ron DeSantis, as he noted his decision to launch his campaign from ultra-conservative Iowa – the state that will be first to vote in the Republican primaries – while others did so “at their resort, even on Twitter”.
Polling shows Mr Trump with a mammoth lead in the Republican contest, with over 50 per cent planning to support him, with Mr DeSantis, the Governor of Florida, the only other candidate to break out of the single figures.
But there is significant uncertainty about whether Mr Trump will follow through with his bid given the mountain of legal troubles he is facing – leading to a crowded field of hopefuls holding out for a breakthrough moment.
Mr Pence and his advisers see Iowa — the state that will cast its votes first, in January 2024 — as key to his potential pathway to the nomination.
Its caucusgoers include a large portion of evangelical Christian voters, whom they see as a natural constituency for Mr Pence, a social conservative who supports a national ban on abortion and often talks about his faith. They also think Mr Pence, who represented Indiana in Congress and as governor, is a good personality fit with the Midwestern state.
“We believe the path to victory runs through Iowa and all of its 99 counties,” said Scott Reed, co-chair of a super PAC that launched last month to support Mr Pence’s candidacy.
But he faces a significant uphill battle – with many Trump supporters bearing a grudge over his role in the aftermath of the 2020 election.
A CNN poll conducted last month found 45 per cent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said they would not support Mr Pence under any circumstance. Only 16 per cent said the same about Trump.
In Iowa, Mr Trump has higher unfavourable ratings than all of the other candidates it asked about, including Trump and DeSantis, with 26 per cent of Republicans polled saying they have a “somewhat” or “very” unfavourable view of him.
The faith-heavy rally opened with a prayer and speakers repeatedly invoked God and Christian values. The candidate’s wife, Karen Pence, said: “We feel called to step up to serve God and our country.”