He hasn’t held executive office. He isn’t a paid Fox News contributor. He hasn’t written a best-seller or starred in a reality show.
So is there any reason Rep. Mike Pence (R., Ind.) should be considered a viable 2012 presidential contender?
According to supporters, there’s a huge one: authenticity. Pence identifies himself as a fiscal and social conservative and has the voting record to prove it. Elected in 2000, when compassionate conservatism was trendy, he has never been afraid to play the Grinch, voting against big-spending initiatives such as No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, and TARP. Pence has displayed the same kind of consistency on social issues, establishing a solidly pro-life record over the last decade.
Pence’s advocacy hasn’t gone unnoticed. He spoke at the Tea Party’s 9/12 rally in Washington, D.C., last year and again this year, and won the straw poll of 2012 presidential candidates at the Family Research Council’s Value Voters Summit this year, beating out notables like Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, and Sarah Palin. When Pence resigned from his leadership position as chairman of the House Republican Conference following the election, there was immediate buzz that he might be considering a presidential run. Others speculated that he might run for governor of Indiana, where term limits mandate that current governor Mitch Daniels step down in 2012.
“The congressman hasn’t made a decision at this point,” says Pence spokesman Matt Lloyd. “He’s humbled by the encouragement he’s received back in Indiana and around the country, and he’s going to take the coming weeks to seek counsel and prayerfully consider it.”
If Pence decides to run for president, he faces steep obstacles. The last president elected directly from the House of Representatives was James Garfield in 1880. And while President Obama’s rapid ascent may signal that voters don’t demand much political experience from their presidents, even Obama had been a senator for two years before launching his campaign.
On the flip side, Pence may benefit from being a new candidate, which could appeal to GOP voters who don’t want the 2012 presidential field to be 2008 redux. “When I travel around the country,” says Gary Bauer, president of the social-conservative organization American Values, “conservative audiences seem to feel that they would love to see someone new emerge who had the sort of Reaganesque qualities that are so effective in American politics. I can imagine easily a scenario where Mike Pence could get traction and end up emerging as the candidate.”
Pence, however, has also shown signs of interest in running for governor. “He did a lot of Lincoln Day dinners that weren’t exactly in his congressional district, so that tells you he’s maybe at least thinking hard about the governorship,” says Mike McDaniel, former chairman of the Indiana GOP, referring to the dinners held annually by each of Indiana’s 92 counties.
If Pence does opt to run for governor, he will most likely face a competitive primary, with Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman having already said she’s “seriously considering” running. If Pence wins the primary, his opponent may well be Sen. Evan Bayh, who was Indiana’s governor for two terms before serving in the U.S. Senate for twelve years. Bayh is not currently Indiana’s favorite Democrat, thanks to his last-minute decision not to run for re-election, a decision that many Democrats believe ensured that a Republican would win, as Dan Coats in fact did. But if Bayh decides to try to patch up his relations with state Democrats and run, he’ll be likely to mount a formidable campaign, although his more liberal Senate votes may prove to be an Achilles’ heel.