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Where to run?

Politics | As the Indiana Republican weighs a presidential bid, a race for governor may make more sense for Mike Pence

INDIANAPOLIS-With U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh stepping aside, U.S. Rep. Mike Pence has a pretty clear path to the Indiana governor's office to succeed Mitch Daniels.

Pence is weighing the run for governor against a presidential bid in 2012. In terms of traditional political thinking, the race for governor makes more sense. Most successful Republican presidents have first presided over state governments. Or in the case of Dwight D. Eisenhower, he presided over the Allied forces in Europe during World War II.

For Pence's children, two still at home, a race for governor would be less demanding. He wants his kids to have some time to live in Indiana, after a decade in northern Virginia, and his oldest is a freshman at Purdue University in Indiana.

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Both Pence and Bayh have tried to put family first in political life.

Bayh resisted pressure to run for governor for 2012, where he already served from 1989 to 1997. He wanted his twins to finish school in Virginia.

At age 51, a term or two as governor for Pence keeps the door open for the presidential run in 2016 or 2020. Without Bayh in the race, Pence could become the frontrunner who discourages other candidates from jumping in.

Pence has an unusual ability to attract support from both wings of his party. U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar may face a Tea Party challenge in 2012 in a Republican primary, but Pence appeals to the free-market, small-government conservatives, as well as those who embrace family-values.

"A lot of us think he brings the right brand of Republicanism," said Curt Smith of the Indiana Family Institute and a former top aide to Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana. "Mike understands that moral issues are inextricably linked to economic issues. He is the best blend of that I have seen. Institutions like family, neighborhoods and churches create social capital-respect for authority and deferred gratification. America has always turned social capital into economic capital."

For the Democrats, possible gubernatorial candidates include former state House Speaker John Gregg; Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel; Brad Ellsworth, who lost the U.S. Senate race to Coats; and U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly.

"John Gregg would be the most compelling candidate for the Democrats," said Smith. "He's moderate, even conservative on many issues."

Gregg, though, said he would defer to Weinzapfel if he decides to run. Donnelly might consider a race for the Senate against Lugar, depending on new House district boundaries.

Gregg also expects Bayh to remain very influential in Indiana politics: "He's going to continue to be the grand man of the Indiana Democratic Party, the way Otis Bowen was for the Republicans."

The Butler University presidency is open, and the Purdue presidency will come open when France Córdova retires. Bayh does not have a doctorate degree, but he knows how to raise money, which is a critical qualification for a university president.

Gregg doesn't count Bayh out for a future presidential run. After all, he notes that college presidencies were on the White House path for Woodrow Wilson (Princeton University) and Eisenhower (Columbia University).

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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