Back home again in Indiana


U.S. Rep. Mike Pence is running for governor of Indiana, putting any presidential hopes off until 2016 or 2020.

Those plans aren't set in concrete, but the governor's race makes sense on several counts.

The office would give him the executive branch experience that many presidents have had, especially on the Republican side. If he can implement his small government vision, he would have a chance to help Indiana shine as an economic star in the Midwest.

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He also has two teenagers at home, and a son at Purdue. By diving into a presidential campaign, Pence would miss years with his daughters that he can never recover. By waiting, he also would improve his chances of one day mounting a successful run for the presidency. Barack Obama will be hard to beat next year, and the race will open up in 2016.

Pence could have an easy time winning a race for governor. His most formidable potential competitor, former Gov. and Sen. Evan Bayh, declined to run. He is heading to a financial firm instead to make some money.

Although Democrats have some good candidates, none is in the same league as Pence.

A potential Democratic nominee, former Rep. Brad Ellsworth, lost so badly to Sen. Dan Coats that he might have a hard time running again for statewide office.

Rep. Joe Donnelly has shown he can win even amid a Republican landslide. "He's from outside Indianapolis," notes Indiana Family Institute president Curt Smith, a top adviser to Republicans. "He's got a moderate streak."

Former Democratic state chairman Robin Winston thinks Democrats can make the race competitive, with help from Obama, who carried Indiana in 2008. "Indiana is going to be a priority for the president," Winston said. State Democrats, he hopes, will find a consensus candidate this spring. "It's a $15 million to $18 million race. I hope we won't have a primary."

Pence's plans should keep the Republican field clear of other strong candidates.

"The social conservatives love him," says former Republican state chairman Rex Early. "The fiscal conservatives-he talks the talk. He is a fiscal conservative. The business people would be very comfortable with him."

He also doesn't alienate the opposition. "I like Mike Pence," says former House Speaker John Gregg, a Democrat. "He is a conservative, but unlike some conservatives he's not angry. I don't find him shaking his finger at a moderate or liberal. He invites discussion and an exchange of ideas."

Although Pence's path to the governor's office appears clear at this point, he's not likely to take it for granted. Pence knows what it's like to lose an election, having made unsuccessful runs for Congress in 1988 and 1990. He learned from his mistakes in those campaigns, even apologizing to his opponent, Phil Sharp, for his use of hard-nosed political tactics

Pence spent the 1990s in the political wilderness of talk radio. It also was a time when he grew in his Christian faith, learning to submit his career ambitions to a timetable that is not entirely his own.

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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