Former vice president Mike Pence will announce he is running for president next week, it has been reported, putting him in opposition to his former boss Donald Trump.
Mr Pence, who has vacillated between supporting and criticising Mr Trump since his exit from office, is expected to pitch himself as the candidate of traditional conservatives and evangelicals in the race.
Donald Trump remains the overwhelming favourite to win the Republican nomination to take on Joe Biden in 2024, but he faces a number of outstanding legal issues that could overwhelm any push to reclaim the White House.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has forged a reputation as a “culture warrior” railing against the “woke mind virus”, remains Mr Trump’s biggest rival – but his campaign got off to a chaotic start last week after a glitch-laden online campaign launch with Elon Musk.
Most polls show Mr Pence trailing in the low single figures – with the ex-vice president loathed by Trump loyalists for his hand in helping ratify the results of the 2020 election amid the Capitol riots by Trump supporters.
But Mr Pence, who was governor of Indiana before his four years attached to Mr Trump, reportedly intends to campaign heavily on his conservative credentials in Iowa, which will be the first state to weigh in on the Republican contest next January.
A source told NBC: “We view this race as absolutely wide open, and Iowa is really going to solidify itself as the pivotal player.
“It’s a place that values Mike Pence’s principles — traditional conservative principles — deep-rooted faith and uncommon character.”
A fundamentalist Christian, Mr Pence was seen as a champion of evangelical causes both before and during his stint as vice president – a vehement opponent of abortion and LGBT+ rights who does not believe in evolution and once said he supported creationism being taught in schools.
The campaign is expected to lean heavily on town halls and retail stops aimed at showcasing Mr Pence’s personality as he tries to emerge from Mr Trump’s shadow.
It was reported earlier on Wednesday that former New Jersey governor and Trump frenemy Chris Christie also plans to enter the race next week, with a source pitching him as “a happy warrior who speaks his mind, takes risks and is happy to punch Donald Trump in the nose”.
Other candidates already declared include South Carolina senator Tim Scott, as well as Nikki Haley, former governor of South Carolina and Mr Trump’s former UN ambassador.