The Campaign Spot

Meet the Conservatives Hoping to Sway Mike Pence’s Decision

Will Rep. Mike Pence (R., Ind.) run for president? His allies have indicated in the past that a decision on whether to run for the presidency or the governorship of his home state would come at the end of January.

One of the folks who are intensely hoping for a Pence presidential bid is Ralph Benko, former deputy counsel in the Reagan White House, principal at Capital City Partners, and author of the book The Websters’ Dictionary: How to Use the Web to Transform the World — who has set up a new site, The Conservative Champion, dedicated to the concept of Pence for President. 

I talked to Benko about how he, with the help of some other prominent conservatives and CRC Public Relations, have set up a public persuasion effort when their target is, ultimately, one man.

NRO: How do you and a PR firm that is usually involved in mass communications, trying to influence the views of a broad audience, go about an effort about influencing the decision of one man?

Benko: In addition to finding Mike Pence extraordinary, I also long-term card-carrying member of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. By the way, my serial number is 0002. Reagan was 0001, but when he passed on, we retired his number. I am a true dyed-in-the-wool right-winger.

I was hearing quietly from lots of people — conservative leaders, conservative rank-and-file — a remarkably positive opinion about Pence. And I thought, just under the surface there is enormous enthusiasm for the prospect of President Pence. I know a bit about the web, let me give it someplace to go, and see if it does. And see if it begins to trigger something — we don’t have a lot of time and we don’t have a lot of money. Let’s put a shovel in the ground and see if anything grows out of it. I think I was right. I’ve been very impressed with the level of enthusiasm that has come to the fore in this very brief amount of time.

So besides finding him extraordinary, I had anecdotal evidence that a lot of other conservatives who shared that opinion and just realized that there was an opportunity to encourage him to run and let him know that if he ran, he wouldn’t be running alone. It’s not a Quixotic effort.

The prospect of a Pence presidency draws forth enormous enthusiasm from conservatives, Tea partiers, populists, traditionalists, and even, I’m guessing, independents. From the impressions that I get, it’s better than my expectations . . .

NRO: If three million people visit the web site, and yet he says no, then it might be a success but not the result you wanted. So, short of renting a billboard and putting it on his front lawn, how do you get to him? How do you reach him?

Benko: We can’t talk to him, legally. So he has to read about it in National Review, which I am hoping he will. There has been a good deal of media about this, significant outlets have focused upon this, and there’s been a lot of curiosity and enthusiasm. According to what I’ve read in the media, about Mike Pence reading the media, he’s noticed this. (Pence’s former chief of staff, Mark Short, quoted in Politico: “It probably caught us a little bit off guard, and we’ve said, ‘Whoa, we need to look at that.’”) He’s a smart and discerning guy, and he reads the papers.

NRO: If Pence announces that he’s running, what happens to you guys? Do you close up shop and get folded into a campaign, or are there legal restrictions because of what you’ve established?

Benko: Honestly, I haven’t thought that far ahead. I’m focused on a very specific thing. I thought Mike Pence was extraordinary, and I suspected other people thought so too, and I wanted to give people a place to go with that. We have until the end of January to elicit some evidence of that.

In the wake of this, [we’ve seen comments encouraging Pence from] Dick Armey, Brent Bozell, Morton Blackwell, Richard Viguerie, [and former congressman] Jim Ryun as a derivative of this. Eleven state legislators have started organizing ‘South Carolina for Pence.’ It’s triggering things. It’s starting to cascade. How big that cascade will grow, if Mike Pence declares . . . well, I think it will grow huge.


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