Pence shuts 1 door, leaves another open

This article originally appeared on on January 27, 2011.

Pence shuts 1 door, leaves another open
Mike Pence won’t run for president; maybe governor?

By: Mary Beth Schneider and Maureen Groppe

The Mike Pence file

Age: 51

Born: June 7, 1959, in Columbus.

Education: Bachelor’s degree, Hanover College, 1981; law degree, Indiana University, 1986.

Religion: Christian

Family: Wife, Karen; three children.

Home: Columbus.

Career experience: Admissions counselor, Hanover College, 1981-83; attorney, 1986-91; president, Indiana Policy Review Foundation, 1991-93; radio broadcaster, Network Indiana, 1992-99; host, Public Affairs TV, UPN-23, 1995-99; U.S. House, 2001-present.

Elections: Pence was elected to a sixth term in November with 67 percent of the vote. He has not received less than 60 percent since his first victory in 2000.

Source: Star archives

U.S. Rep. Mike Pence shut the door Thursday on seeking the presidency in 2012 but left unanswered whether his choice instead is the Indiana governor’s office.

“I’m open to running for governor,” Pence said in an exclusive interview with The Indianapolis Star. “We’re going to take the next several months to travel across the state and hear what Hoosiers have to say. We’ll seriously consider it.”

Still, many in politics said the Columbus Republican’s decision instantly catapults him into the leading position to succeed Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Although those who wanted him to run for president were disappointed, Republicans looking to keep or increase the 29 governor’s offices they now hold were thrilled. Pence, in fact, was the first recruitment call that Texas Gov. Rick Perry made when he became chairman of the Republican Governors Association, telephoning him Jan. 4.

On Wednesday, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, the association’s vice chairman, and Phil Cox, the group’s executive director, met with Pence in Washington.

That night, Pence, his wife, Karen, and their children reached the final decision that he would not seek the White House — at least not in 2012.

“We believe our calling is closer to home,” he said.

His decision, though, doesn’t preclude a future presidential bid. If anything, said Bill Blomquist, a political science professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, a stint as governor on his resume would only enhance his chances of running for the presidency in the future.

For now, though, the political road Pence will travel begins in Indiana — literally. Pence said he will “be traveling across the state to listen and learn about how Hoosiers think we might best contribute in the years ahead.”

That begins today.

Pence is holding a town hall meeting at 10 a.m. in Pendleton and speaking at 1:20 p.m. to Muncie Central High School students. Those are both in the 6th District that Pence has represented since 2000, but he also has speeches planned at Republican Party events as far from his Columbus home base as Lake County.

The goal, he said, is to listen to “Hoosiers in every walk of life but also to become more familiar with the challenges and opportunities facing Hoosier families and facing the state of Indiana.”

But, he said, before he was in Congress he headed a think tank — the Indiana Policy Review Foundation — and was a talk-show host, two jobs that made him familiar “with every issue affecting state and local government.”

He said he’s already met with some policy experts and public officials, including legislative leaders and Daniels, who is barred by law from seeking a third consecutive term as governor.

So far, no Republican has officially entered the race for governor, though some — including former Attorney General Steve Carter — are considering it. Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman recently said she would not run because of health concerns.

Eric Holcomb, a former aide to Daniels who is chairman of the Indiana Republican Party, said Pence would be “a formidable candidate” for governor. And although many members of Congress are little known outside their districts, that isn’t true of Pence.

That talk-show experience combined with a high profile in Congress has made him a familiar face and name to many Hoosiers, Holcomb said.

“He has a built-in advantage, but it’s a big state and it requires many days on the road” to campaign successfully, he said.

Jim Bopp, a Terre Haute attorney who also is a Republican National Committee member, said Pence could be hard to beat if he runs for governor.

“He’ll be the prohibitive favorite in 2012,” Bopp said, for both the nomination and the general election.

Democrats disagreed. Several Democrats have expressed interest in running, including U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, whose Northern Indiana district is expected to become more Republican-leaning when new district maps are drawn this year; former U.S. Rep. Brad Ellsworth, who lost his bid for the Senate in 2010; Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel; and Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight.

Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker predicted a “very, very competitive race” in 2012. He labeled Pence an ideologue who is “out of the mainstream in Indiana” and should be thinking more about his job in Washington and less about seeking another job.

Even though Pence wasn’t officially in the race yet for governor, partisans on both sides were acting as if he were.

Within minutes of his decision being made public, the Washington-based Planned Parenthood Action Fund put out a statement criticizing the staunchly anti-abortion Pence.

“As women voters in Indiana learn that one of Rep. Mike Pence’s top legislative priorities is effectively denying access to preventive care for millions of women, he will have difficulty winning their vote,” Cecile Richards, the fund’s president, said in a statement.

But among conservatives, the only disappointment was that Pence wasn’t aiming at the White House rather than the Statehouse.

“I’m just disappointed because I considered him the best,” said Ralph Benko, a former Reagan administration aide who started a campaign to draft Pence for the GOP presidential nomination.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a group that opposes abortion, said she trusts that Pence has “come to the place that’s right for him and his family.”

“What I most want is for him to have a long future,” Dannenfelser said. “So I’m sure that he’s made a discernment that this is the right move.”

Former Rep. David McIntosh, who preceded Pence in the district, said Pence’s decision was the correct one “because he made it.”

“You’ve got to have the fire in your belly and the desire to run for president, and his heart clearly is in Indiana,” McIntosh said.

That, Pence said, was what it came down to in the end.

“At the end of the day, we ultimately believed that where our little family is led is somewhere in the service of the people of Indiana in the days ahead,” he said. “I’ve learned in decisions like these to follow my heart. My heart is in Indiana.”

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