Virtual Voices

What's next for Mike Pence?

Campaign 2010

The Republican surge on Election Day creates a nice dilemma for U.S. Rep. Mike Pence from Indiana.

He can run for governor in 2012, having stepped away from his House leadership spot. Or he can keep open a possible presidential run and become an attractive vice presidential option.

On the national level, he's a good bridge-builder within the GOP among the Tea Party movement, Christian conservatives, and traditional free-market Republicans. If he starts to run for governor early enough, he could clear the field of Republican competitors. At age 51, Pence is ready for a new challenge after 10 years in the House.

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If he doesn't run for governor, Republicans have other strong players waiting on deck, including Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman, incoming state House Speaker Brian Bosma, state Senate President Pro Tem David Long, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, and state GOP chairman Murray Clark.

Democrats have a much thinner lineup.

They do have Evan Bayh, who was governor from 1989 to 1997.

He decided not to seek another term in the U.S. Senate and former Sen. Dan Coats reclaimed that old seat of his against Democrat Brad Ellsworth. Bayh has saved several million dollars in his campaign accounts, and many fellow Democrats would welcome him to run again for governor, an office he held from 1989 to 1997 before running for the Senate.

"It would be like the Second Coming when he comes home to Indiana," said former House Speaker John Gregg. "Evan, when it comes to Indiana politics, is the 800-pound gorilla."

In his enthusiasm for the former governor, Gregg predicted that Bayh would beat Pence.

"Evan would thump Mike Pence before breakfast," the former lawmaker from Southern Indiana said.

Setting aside Gregg's hyperbole, Bayh and Pence would provide a spectacular race in 2012. Neither one would thump the other, but either one would thump almost anyone else.

But Bayh may be reluctant to plunge back into state politics, even if another term as governor might position him to run for president someday. He ran for president as a moderate in 2008, never getting enough support to compete with Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.

"If he's coming home, he knows he's dealing with a Republican legislature, and that's no fun for a Democrat," Gregg said.

Without Bayh, Democrats still have Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel as a potential statewide candidate, but he would have to decide whether to run for reelection as mayor next year.

U.S. Rep. Baron Hill has run for statewide office, against Sen. Dan Coats in 1990. But he just lost his House race to Todd Young and would have a hard time persuading financial supporters that he could win statewide after losing in Southern Indiana.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is not only celebrating Tuesday's results but he also can now ponder how a successor such as Pence might continue his reform legacy beyond his time in office. Daniels has been mentioned frequently as a presidential possibility but for now he wants to pursue an aggressive education reform agenda after his Republicans won a majority of the state House of Representatives.

Russ Pulliam
Russ Pulliam

Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of God's World Publications' board of directors.

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