Over the weekend, Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, the chairman of the House Republican Conference, won the presidential straw poll at the Values Voter Summit. Pence’s victory wasn’t much of a surprise. While strolling around the Omni Shoreham hotel, I was struck by how many attendees were enthusiastic about Pence and his future as a national candidate. To many Americans, Pence remains a little-known five-term congressman — one notably left out of the House GOP’s Young Guns project. But on the right, his stock is rising.
For now, Gov. Mitch Daniels is generating the most 2012 buzz inside the Hoosier State. But Pence’s weekend win has brought him, in a more serious way, into the conversation. “Mike Pence got a well-deserved boost . . . he is a solid conservative,” tweeted Newt Gingrich soon after. Pence appears to enjoy the scuttlebutt about his presidential chances and has stoked chatter when he can: He’s visited Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hampshire in recent months.
Still, if Pence is mulling a run, he faces a tough climb. “As history shows, it is extremely difficult to go directly from the House to a presidential nomination — or even to be a major candidate,” says Larry Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “Henry Clay, James A. Garfield, and a few others aside, statewide or national office routes have proven much more reliable as president-makers.”
“The TV age hasn’t proven any different,” Sabato continues. “Jack Kemp couldn’t do it, and Dick Gephardt never came especially close either time, despite his theory that the electronic era gave anyone on the stage equal standing. Pence has the better shot, given his strong standing among social conservatives, but he’s got plenty of competition for that vote. He’d be better off running for governor first. Same for Paul Ryan, though he missed his opening this year.”
“But what the heck,” Sabato laughs. “It’s the silly season, where every man’s a king — or president!”