Mike Pence -- will he or won't he?
The latest buzz in Republican circles concerns whether Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) will throw his hat into the presidential-candidate ring.
It is a measure of how wide open the Republican field is that Pence is seriously considering a run, and prominent movement conservatives are urging him to run. Normally, a multi-term congressman would not be the sort of figure that anti-Washington conservative activists would rush to support. And having learned the hard way that a president with no executive experience has a steep learning curve, conservatives might be expected to look for a business leader, a governor or a military figure.
But this cycle many conservatives are looking for two things: electability and ideological toughness. In short, the base seems not inclined to follow the advice of those who cheered Christine O'Donnell (the most conservative in the field, electability be damned) or be swayed by premature polls.
Pence certainly has the ideological bona fides. Social conservatives are among his biggest supporters. He's voted against the bailouts and has advocated for conservative economic principles for decades. On defense, he's rejected the neo-isolationist temptation. There might be others with a comparable profile, but there are few with any chance in the general election who are going to run to his right.
As for electability, we'll find out only if Pence gets in the race. Does he excite a crowd? Does he have the organizational chops to win early states? And in tone and message, does he seem likely to attract independent voters? We can speculate on each of these, but you don't know until a candidate gets into the mix whether he has the potential to turn out his base and capture centrists. He might be the next Fred Thompson (a major disappointment to the right) or he might be the figure around whom insiders and Tea Partyers can rally.
He has a few challenges. As one of
365 435 members in the House, it is harder for him than for a governor to show what he did to implement conservative ideas. As a congressman in his sixth term, he's not the freshest face on the scene. And while he eloquently sings Ronald Reagan's praises, he'll need a fresher tag line than "Reagan Republican" to win.
All of that may not matter as much as it used to. Increasingly, American campaigns are less about what you have done and more about what you believe and how comfortable voters feel with a candidate. (If you doubt it, ask Hillary Clinton about trying to run an "experience" campaign.)
One final thought: Pence put forth a very credible and tough comprehensive immigration reform plan in opposition to the one set forth by President George W. Bush in 2007. If Republicans are interested in expanding their base to reach Hispanic voters, a candidate with impeccable conservative credentials and an interesting proposal for comprehensive immigration reform could be what the party needs.
And if he doesn't run for president, what better figure is there to primary Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.)?
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