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President Donald Trump has been telling his closest political advisors in recent weeks that he wants Vice President Mike Pence to be with him on the ticket in 2020, CNBC has learned.
The development comes amid media speculation that Trump could ditch Pence in favor of another running mate.
Trump has told confidants that he wants Pence to be his running mate in the next election, and the vice president has privately told him he's ready to defend the administration against a likely onslaught of Democratic presidential candidates running to replace them, according to three people with direct knowledge of the matter.
During a November news conference, Trump himself asked Pence if he would be his running mate. The former Indiana governor nodded his head "yes." However, since then, Vanity Fair reported that Trump was thinking about ditching Pence.
The latest news might not end the speculation about Pence's fate, though, since Trump is known to change his mind without notice – as his recent search for a new chief of staff demonstrated.
Trump announced last week that Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney will take over as acting chief of staff after he said John Kelly would leave at the end of the year. Kelly had earlier agreed to stay in the role until 2020. Trump's decision to pick Mulvaney concluded an exhaustive search, with others such as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie under consideration. Neither Mnuchin nor Christie were interested in taking the job.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and a spokeswoman for Pence did not return repeated requests for comment.
Pence's continued presence on the Trump ticket could be critical to preserving the president's connections to conservative and evangelical Christians. The vice president, a born-again Christian and a former congressional lawmaker, helped Trump garner 80 percent of the white evangelical electorate during the 2016 presidential election, the highest level since 2004, when George W. Bush received their overwhelming backing.
Pence and the administration's connection to the evangelical community was evident when he spoke at the annual Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas in June. At the event, he told a large gathering of 10,000 pastors that the Trump White House would continue to defend their religion's priorities.
"This is a pivotal year in the life of our nation," Pence said at the time. "Be assured of this, President Trump and I are going to continue to fight for what we know is right."
Overall, the Southern Baptist denomination boasts 15 million members.
Trump has surrounded himself with conservative Christian leaders to advise him on policies that appeal to the GOP's evangelical base. Trump has sought counsel from minister Jerry Falwell Jr., and Southern Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress.
Another asset Pence brings to the table: fundraising chops.
The vice president has his own political and fundraising operation in place to help Trump's re-election bid. Pence's political action committee, the Great America Committee, has raised more than $4 million throughout the 2018 election cycle but spent most of it during the midterms.
Trump, on the other hand, has brought in more than $100 million combined between his own campaign and the joint fundraising committees that also contribute to the Republican National Committee.
The combined Trump-Pence fundraising effort will be a tough match for any Democrat, even ones who end up snagging the backing of major party donors early in the race.