By Molly K. Hooper - 09/24/10 10:00 AM EDT
Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) will likely launch a bid for higher office after the November elections, according to several House Republicans.
Pence won the presidential straw poll at the Values Voter Summit on Saturday, intensifying speculation that the third-ranking House Republican has bigger aspirations than serving in the lower chamber.
With the state’s popular governor, Mitch Daniels (R), term-limited, Pence would have a clear opportunity to run for his party’s nomination. Daniels, meanwhile, is mulling a presidential bid.
But a Republican lawmaker who requested anonymity believes Daniels may not be the only Indiana Republican running for the White House.
“I think [Pence is] actually going to do that. I think he’s actually going to dip his toe in there,” the lawmaker said.
While Daniels is known more as a fiscal conservative, Pence appeals to large factions of the GOP.
In 2003, Pence bucked President George W. Bush in opposing the Medicare prescription drug bill. Pence’s opposition infuriated the White House and Republican leaders in Congress, but many on the right note that Pence was one of the few GOP legislators who refused to back the biggest expansion of Medicare since its inception. Pence also voted against the Wall Street bailout bill in 2008.
And he has been at the forefront of social issues, championing the anti-abortion cause and fighting gay marriage.
But Pence is not the most popular House Republican.
He challenged Boehner in 2006, after the party lost control of the House, to be minority leader. In his bid for that position, Pence cited a return to the values espoused in the 1994 Contract With America. Boehner trounced Pence, though later he tapped the congressman to serve in leadership as House GOP conference chairman.
Asked if he wanted to run for president, Pence told The Hill in a recent interview that “people ask me if I’ve ever thought about it, and I tell them, ‘No more or no less than anybody else who grew up with a cornfield in their backyard.’ ”
Only one sitting House member, James Garfield, has been elected president — and that happened 130 years ago.
Pence says his focus remains on winning the midterm elections.
“I’m totally focused on winning back the American Congress for conservative candidates,” Pence said with a smile.
Pence’s close friend and head of the conservative advocacy group Indiana Family Institute, Curt Smith, takes Pence at his word.
Pence has called the midterms “one of the most important elections in the life of this nation.”
Pence passed up a chance to run for the Senate, even after Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) announced he wasn’t seeking reelection.
Indiana’s Ball State University political science Professor Raymond Scheele noted that Bayh has been mentioned as a potential gubernatorial candidate for 2012, setting up a possible Bayh-Pence general election.
“That would be quite a match-up,” Scheele said.
Conservative political insiders would welcome a Pence bid for higher office.
“Mike Pence’s name has been thrown out for president and for governor. I would be pleased with whatever his decision is, knowing that he’s represented Hoosiers well in Congress and voted for Hoosier values,” said Josh Gillespie of conservative Indiana blog Hoosieraccess.com.
Pence, a former radio talk-show host, has long enjoyed a close relationship with the media. His comfort in speaking to the press adds to his résumé of attributes needed for higher office, Smith said.
“Mike gets to write his ticket. He had 10 years on talk radio, and I think that helped him get to the essence of an issue, explain it in common language instead of legislative-speak, and I think he’s as good a communicator as we have,” Smith said.
It remains to be seen if Pence, a former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, could win an elected leadership race.
If House Republicans grab control of the chamber, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) would become Speaker and Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) would likely trade in his minority-whip title for majority leader.
The third-ranking post would be majority whip. Members who could run for that post include National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) and House Chief Deputy Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), among others.
Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), a former head of the NRCC, said Pence would probably not serve in leadership if he mounted a bid for higher office.