WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. Mike Pence has to be flattered.
While he has said he will decide his political future -- which could be running for governor or president -- by the end of this month, there is a campaign to push the Columbus Republican toward the White House.
A group of South Carolina lawmakers stood on the steps of their state Capitol on Wednesday to encourage Pence to run.
"It's not a complicated message, but it's a heartfelt one," state Rep. Kris Crawford said. "We would like him on the ballot."
Leaders of the conservative movement made the same argument in a letter to Pence this week.
"Seize this moment, Mike," said the letter, signed by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and three others. "At this precarious time in our nation's history, none of us can afford to make political calculations or make decisions based on future ambitions, for what will be left of the future if we fail today?"
And Pence supporters are collecting signatures from conservatives and tea party activists through a website and social media campaigns as part of a draft effort.
"I said, 'Let's attempt to demonstrate the level of enthusiasm for him that I think is out there a millimeter under the surface,' " said Ralph Benko, a former Reagan administration aide who started the campaign. "I think it's huge. I just think it needs a little place to go. So we built a little place for it to go."
But should Pence listen to his backers or choose what some say is the safer route of running for Indiana governor? Is it realistic to try to vault from the House to the White House, something that has been done only once, in 1880?
"A number of things would have to fall into place to make him competitive," said Charlie Black, a veteran GOP strategist. "The key is the conservative movement adopting him as its favorite."
Black said those urging Pence to run are important conservative leaders. But Pence will need more.
"The folks I've heard, the names I've seen, are the leaders of the social conservative movement," said GOP strategist Scott Reed, who managed Bob Dole's presidential campaign in 1996. "And that is a strong base from which to start. But it isn't going to get you to the finish line. You need to be able to expand beyond that."
Pence said Monday he's leaning in one direction but declined to say what it was.
"We're nearing the end of a process that began right after Election Day in November," Pence said. "We've determined that it would be appropriate for us to make a decision on our general direction before the end of January."
His recent activities suggest he has been keeping his options open.
Pence addressed state legislators Monday and is speaking at 16 upcoming Lincoln Day dinners across the state. He campaigned heavily for Indiana GOP candidates in last year's elections.
In November, Pence spoke at the Detroit Economic Club, which has hosted every sitting U.S. president since Richard M. Nixon. Next month, Pence and other potential GOP candidates are speaking at an Illinois GOP dinner celebrating Ronald Reagan. And he's the keynote speaker at a large February fundraiser for the Susan B. Anthony List, a group opposing abortion.
"I truly don't know (if he's running for president)," said Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser, who has urged Pence to run. "It's my job to really encourage talent to seize the moment, and I think he can do it."
If Pence is going to decide this month, he will have to do it without knowing who else is running. Those potential candidates include former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
And, unless Gov. Mitch Daniels has divulged his plans privately to Pence, Pence won't know whether he'll have to compete against Daniels, a favorite of Republicans who like Daniels' broad experience and fiscal credentials. Daniels has said he won't make a decision about running for president until after this year's legislative season ends in April.
"If (Daniels) runs, I think it's hard for Mike, because all the financial base in Indiana would likely go to Daniels," Black said.
But Pence also can't afford to wait to decide because he has a long way to go in building a fundraising network and a campaign team, and becoming better-known.
As the No. 3 Republican in the House leadership in the last Congress, Pence traveled across the country to help Republican candidates. He traveled two times each to Iowa and South Carolina and once to New Hampshire. All are crucial states early in the election process.
He'd need to step up the travel, including getting ready for this summer's GOP straw poll in Iowa, which will draw the national media.
A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll of potential GOP candidates shows none dominating the field. The top choices were Huckabee (21 percent), Palin (19 percent) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (17 percent).
Both Pence and Daniels, however, were the top choice of 2 percent of the Republicans and Republican-leaning independents surveyed.
Among consultants, fundraisers and other political insiders surveyed by the nonpartisan National Journal, Daniels recently was chosen as the second-most-likely to get the GOP nomination, after Romney. Pence didn't make the top 10.
So why are Pence's backers so enthusiastic about him?
"Mike Pence displays the kind of optimism, moral values and gutsy leadership we need in a president -- and a presidential nominee," says the draft-Pence website, theconservativechampion.org.
"He bridges the gap between the establishment and the grassroots," wrote influential conservative blogger Erick Erickson on RedState.com.
Pence gets credit for standing up to his party in opposing the Medicare drug benefit in 2003 and for challenging GOP leaders on other spending issues. He's also viewed as strong on defense issues and a champion of issues important to social conservatives.
"To those who say that marriage is not relevant to our budget crisis," Pence said in an enthusiastically received speech at the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit last fall, "I say you would not be able to print enough money in a thousand years to pay for the government that you would need if the family continues to collapse."
After giving that speech, Pence won the group's straw poll for top choice for its 2012 nominee.
"He has that everyman, Indiana appeal with vision," Dannenfelser said. She said Pence, a former radio talk show host, connects with those he's speaking to.
"I hate to bring up Reagan because everybody does that," Dannenfelser said. "But it's what Reagan did and what Palin can do and what other candidates would pay any amount of money for."
Andy Smith, who heads the University of New Hampshire's Granite State Poll, said it's not surprising that activists are urging Pence to run. But, he noted, that doesn't mean he has a good chance of winning.
"Republicans and Democrats go through this all the time," Smith said. "Particularly party activists don't see a candidate who is either well enough known, or ideologically or intellectually consistent enough for them, so they try to recruit people who fit the bill.
"Unfortunately, those kinds of folks generally don't have the sort of broad name recognition or broad appeal to get the numbers of voters that it takes to win this thing."