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Pence returns to the campaign trail, where he'll begin to chart his own political future
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Pence returns to the campaign trail, where he'll begin to chart his own political future

Vice President Mike Pence faces one of his toughest loyalty challenges yet in Georgia.

Politics

ATLANTA — Vice President Mike Pence returns Friday to the campaign trail, hitting the stump after two weeks of ducking the spotlight and largely staying silent while President Donald Trump rages about their election loss.

The tumultuous transition — besieged by Trump's baseless claims of voter fraud and his refusal to concede — is setting Pence up for one of the biggest political tests of his career.

Since Trump picked him as his running mate, Pence has tried to position himself as one of Trump's loyal allies while distancing himself from some of the more outrageous rhetoric.

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But he will be Trump's No. 2 for only less than nine weeks, leaving him to contend with his own political path forward — including whether to run for president in 2024 — and how to chart his own course with or without Trump's supporters.

Pence can begin "to position himself as the titular head of the loyal opposition," said Barry Bennett, a Republican strategist who worked for Trump's 2016 campaign.

"What happened in the House tells us that the president's policies were quite popular. His personality, obviously, was not helpful with some voters," Bennett said. "But if Pence can run on the policies and not have the baggage of the image problem, he'll do quite well."

Pence returns to the campaign trail Friday to headline two rallies in Georgia for Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, both of whom are locked in competitive runoff races in January that will determine which party controls the Senate.

The GOP case for Perdue and Loeffler rests in part on acknowledging that President-elect Joe Biden will be in the White House next year and arguing that a Republican Senate is needed to keep him in check. But few Republicans, including Pence, have been willing to publicly spell out that reality out of fear that it could anger Trump and might risk upsetting his base supporters, who have become a critical part of the party's coalition.