Mike Pence passes on a presidential run
As Chris Cilliza reported last night, Rep. Mike Pence (R- Ind.) opted out of a presidential run in 2012. He seems keen to run for governor instead.
Pence had garnered praise from an array of conservatives, especially among religious conservatives. But the money needed to run and the number of contenders he would have had to beat were perhaps too daunting. His conservative bona fides on fiscal, social and foreign policy issues were not in doubt, but the long-time congressman would have had his work cut out in gaining visibility and making a unique case for his own candidacy. (Why Pence, rather than a governor or a fresher face?) And as I wrote previously, it's hard to see how he would win Iowa and build momentum for the rest of the race.
His departure will come as good news to several presidential candidates. Tim Pawlenty may have the most to gain. Pawlenty is looking to be the alternative to Mitt Romney -- a conservative with executive leadership but without the burden of RomneyCare or other baggage. The same movement conservatives who had been cheering for the solidly conservative Pence may find Pawlenty a fine substitute. Gov. Haley Barbour (Miss.), if he should run, also benefits by elimination of another "not Romney" candidate. Barbour would need a good showing in Iowa to stay competitive, and Pence's decision not to run frees up some social conservative voters who are key to winning the caucuses.
What of Gov. Mitch Daniels (Ind.)? Plainly, eliminating another Indiana conservative helps him. But Daniels is likely not going to be the favorite of social conservatives, who were spooked by his "social truce." In an odd way, then, Pence's elimination, by boosting other social conservative-friendly candidates, may make Daniels's already difficult situation even tougher.
As for Romney, his team would have been delighted to have the "not Palin" candidate, seeing Romney as the figure around whom the party would rally once voters realized that Palin would not be a viable candidate. But with her more likely not to run, Romney now is enjoying playing the political recluse and watching the other contenders carve up the "not Romney" vote. He would be chagrined if too many more contenders decline to run.
So contrary to conventional wisdom, the GOP 2012 field may not be so crowded after all. With Pence out and smart money on Palin not running, there is ample room for a late-decider (e.g. Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Rick Perry) to take the plunge. There sure will be a chunk of disappointed Pence supporters looking for the guy.
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