WASHINGTON, D.C. – Karen Pence has no shortage of projects.
The wife of Vice President Mike Pence promotes the healing power of art therapy and help for military spouses. She's into honeybees and supports sister cities. She's a watercolorist who designs the family's annual Christmas card and teaches art at a religious elementary school.
Now, she's beginning to campaign on her own to help win a second term for President Donald Trump and her husband. And with first lady Melania Trump largely avoiding the political scene, the campaign sees Mrs. Pence as an asset in one of the areas where they most need help — with suburban woman.
“I just feel like I want to do my part,” Mrs. Pence told The Associated Press in an interview shortly before she took a solo trip home to Indianapolis to add the Trump-Pence ticket to the ballot for the state's Republican presidential primary in May. Mike Pence is a former Indiana governor.
“This is so exciting for me,” she told supporters at the Indiana Statehouse. "Under the leadership of President Trump and Vice President Pence — I have to put his name in there, too — we are getting things done."
Her pitch includes highlighting economic gains under Trump, including historically low unemployment, along with tax cuts, the creation of “opportunity zones” to lure investment to low-income neighborhoods across the U.S., deregulation and trade policy.
Mrs. Pence told AP she sees her role as “telling the story. Promises made, promises kept.”
Over the past several months, she's told that story at a “Latinos for Trump” event in Las Vegas and a “Women for Trump" gathering in St. Paul, Minnesota. Trump narrowly lost Nevada and Minnesota in 2016.
The day after the Indiana stop, she flew to New Hampshire to help rev up Trump supporters before the president arrived a few days later for a campaign rally on the eve of the state's first-in-the-nation presidential primary.
"Whatever you're doing, we need you to do more, and whatever you're giving, we need you to give more," she told the crowd at a Nashua hotel. “We need four more years of President Donald Trump.”
Karen Pence is no stranger to the campaign trail. Mike Pence represented Indiana in the U.S. House for six terms before he was elected governor and later joined Trump's ticket.
But the 63-year-old mother of three did little campaigning for Trump after he brought Mike Pence onto the ticket. An evangelical Christian, she was said to have been turned off by Trump's past personal behavior, including hearing him talk on a years-old audiotape that surfaced before the November 2016 election about grabbing women by their private parts.
Aides say Mrs. Pence supports Trump, and that claims suggesting otherwise are false.
Mike Pence, meanwhile, is seen as harboring ambitions to succeed Trump as the GOP presidential nominee in 2024, and having his wife, who is also one of his closest advisers, publicly advocate for him could aid in such efforts. It could help boost her profile, too.
“The only time that she gets much attention nationally is in reference to her husband and their relationship,” said Tammy Vigil, a Boston University communications professor who studies women as political communicators. “She could definitely improve her image by being active and going on her own."
Mrs. Pence drew some criticism last year after she resumed teaching art part-time at a Christian school that bars lesbian and gay students and teachers. She had taught at the Northern Virginia school when Mike Pence was a member of Congress. Her husband pushed back against the critics by saying that “attacking Christian education” was offensive.
The Trump campaign calls Mrs. Pence a “tremendous asset.”
“She knows how to appeal to key conservative and suburban voters, relates closely to the Midwestern voting bloc that Republicans need to win the race, and is eager to explain why the president and vice president deserve reelection,” said campaign spokesman Jon Thompson.
Mrs. Pence is also deeply involved in another campaign, one to help educate military spouses about resources to help them cope with lengthy deployments, frequent moves or other issues specific to their experiences.
She and Leah Esper, the wife of Defense Secretary Mark Esper, have begun monthly visits to military bases to meet with spouses. Their first stop was North Carolina's Camp Lejeune in January.
“I think for them to see both of us, it was really special,” Karen Pence told AP in her second-floor office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House grounds.
She has personal experience with military spouse issues. Her son, Michael, is a Marine Corps pilot. His wife, Sarah, accompanied Mike and Karen Pence on a recent trip to Israel and Rome.
Karen Pence is carrying out her myriad responsibilities with a slightly updated image.
Below-the-shoulder locks have replaced the tight bob and bangs she sported at the dawn of the administration. She's noticeably thinner, too, with credit going to an exercise regimen that includes using weights and pulleys, along with apps to aid calorie counting.
She hasn't cut anything out of her diet. “I just have cut back,” she said.
So exactly how many pounds did Karen Pence drop from her 5-foot-2 frame? She said only that it took her six months to a year to shed it.
“I would say that I've kept 10 off," she added. "Let's put it that way.”
Associated Press writer Tom Davies in Indianapolis contributed to this report.
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