Friday, January 28, 2011

Rep. Mike Pence closes door on White House run

At The Indy Star:

U.S. Rep. Mike Pence shut the door today on a run for the presidency, but left wide open the likelihood that he’ll seek a different office: Governor of Indiana.

“In the choice between seeking national office and serving Indiana in some capacity, we choose Indiana,” Pence, R-Columbus, said of himself and wife Karen in a letter being sent to supporters. “We will not seek the Republican nomination for president in 2012.”

He said he would make a decision “later this year” about what his next political step is, but by not running for president it is considered a virtual certainty that he will run for the GOP nomination for governor. While he could, instead, run for a seventh term in Congress, that’s not considered likely given that Pence gave up the job that would have made him the fourth-highest ranking Republican in the House after the November elections, in order to focus on other political opportunities.

And he telegraphed his interest in the governorship by focusing on Indiana in his letter, saying his “calling is closer to home.”

He will now “be traveling across the state to listen and learn about how Hoosiers think we might best contribute in the years ahead.”

That begins Friday. Pence, who flew today to Indiana from Washington, is holding a town hall meeting in Pendleton at 10 a.m. and speaking to Muncie Central High School students at 1:20 p.m.

Pence, 51, is widely considered to be a cinch to win the GOP nomination to succeed Gov. Mitch Daniels, who is barred by law from seeking a third consecutive term and who has left the door open for a run for the presidency himself. Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman recently said she would not run for governor due to health concerns, and so far no other Republican star has stepped forward to enter the race.

In his letter, Pence said that throughout his life, “I have learned to follow my heart, and my heart is in Indiana.”

He praised the state’s people, its “highways and byways, the small towns and courthouse squares, the big cities and cornfields.”

“After years of falling behind, Indiana is on the verge of an era of growth and opportunity like no other time in my life,” he wrote. “Those of us who serve Indiana in Congress and in the Statehouse have a unique opportunity to advance the interests of Hoosiers... Indiana can lead the nation back to fiscal responsibility, reform and strong families. As we achieve an even better Indiana for our children and grandchildren, we will continue to be a model for a better and stronger America.”

Pence was being courted by both fiscal and social conservatives to enter the race for the White House against Democrat President Barack Obama.

Dick Armey, the Texas Republican who is a former House majority leader and now active in the tea party movement, sent a letter to Pence recently telling him to “seize this moment.”

“At this precarious time in our nation’s history,” the letter said, “none of us can afford to make political calculations or make decisions based on future ambitions, for what will be left of our future if we fail today?”

Recently, Ralph Benko, who had been a deputy counsel to President Ronald Reagan, formed the America’s President Committee to encourage Pence to run. And former Rep. Jim Ryun, R-Kansas, offered his help in collecting signatures from conservatives and tea party activists to encourage Pence to get into the race.

Pence thanked those who had encouraged him, but added: “While we may have been able to seek the presidency, we believe our best opportunity to continue to serve the conservative values that brought us to public life is right here in Indiana.”

But it would have been an uphill climb. No sitting member of the House of Representatives has won the presidency since James Garfield in 1880.

And he’s been mired in the bottom of polls weighing people’s early presidential favorites.

In Indiana, though, Pence would enter the race for the governor’s office as the 800-pound gorilla. He is a star among Indiana Republicans. And, after having lost bids for Congress in 1988 and 1990, he easily won election in 2000 and every election since.

In the 2010 elections, he traveled extensively to campaign for other Republicans for local, state and federal offices. And his calendar has been crowded this year with speeches at some 16 Republican party events

He’ll start this campaign with at least $460,000 in left-over funds from his congressional race that he can use to run for governor.

Several Democrats have been mentioned as potential candidates for governor, including former U.S. Rep. Brad Ellsworth, who lost election for the Senate in 2010; U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, whose northern Indiana congressional district is expected to undergo changes in redistricting that will make it lean more Republiican; Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel and Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight.

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