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Faithful leadership in Indiana

"Faithful leadership in Indiana" Continued...

Pence talks about taking the state from good to great. A former radio talk show host, he’s more of a cheerleader than Daniels. He’s been a favorite among Christian conservatives in Indiana and nationally. His family is a part of the nondenominational Community Church of Greenwood, Ind., whereas Daniels has been a long-time member of Tabernacle Presbyterian Church, with its history of inner-city mission in Indianapolis.

What’s surprising is how two Christian conservatives, of different styles but very similar views of the world, have come to dominate Indiana in recent years, even as Barack Obama worked his electioneering magic on the state in 2008 over John McCain.

Timing may be a factor. Daniels was an influential behind-the-scenes political player for 30 years in Indiana circles. When he decided to run for governor in 2004 and try to end 16 years of Democratic dominance of the governor’s mansion, other potential GOP rivals stepped out of his way. Daniels never identified himself as a conservative-movement candidate in the first place, and he wasn’t especially public about his faith. But he had keen grasp of market economics and he applied it at the state level with unusual success.

Pence, 53, a decade younger than Daniels, 63, had run for the U.S. House in 1988 and 1990, losing both times. He put his Christian faith to work in the aftermath, repenting publicly of negative campaigning and befriending Democrats as he spent the 1990s in the political wilderness of Indiana talk radio. Coming back into politics in a 2000 race for the House, he quickly became a leader of conservatives in Congress and helped them enlarge their numbers and influence until he ran for governor.

The Religious Right movement may not be so much dead or dwindling as it is evolving in states such as Indiana. Politically, the movement is not only strong in the governor’s office, but also in Indiana’s General Assembly, with a number of younger Christian conservatives working their way into leadership positions.

The era of top-down national leadership of a Pat Robertson or a James Dobson has faded. But a voter hunger for leaders of faith and limited government is still available for the harvest by competent candidates like Daniels and Pence.

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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