The official purpose of House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence’s (Ind.) trip to South Carolina this month is to attend fundraisers on behalf of his House colleagues. But the trip is fueling speculation that the Indiana Republican is charting a course for higher office.
Over the past few months, Pence has traveled to Iowa and California for various speaking engagements and Member fundraisers.
This summer, he was a fixture at anti-tax and anti-spending “tea parties— around the country and has continued to champion the movement through speeches in the House.
After delivering a rousing speech at the National Tea Party protest on the National Mall last month, Pence worked the crowd, shaking hands with the demonstrators as his campaign staff passed out small cards featuring his photo above the words “Mike Pence, Standing Strong.— The back of the card invited voters to “Join the Pence Team.—
At the Values Voters Summit last month, Pence came in a close fifth in a straw poll behind former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Andy Roth, vice president of government affairs at the conservative Club for Growth, said Pence would find a solid base with grass-roots conservatives.
“He’s a true believer on conservative issues, which is something the GOP has lacked in a presidential candidate since [President Ronald] Reagan,— Roth said. “He would be the top choice for many, many people.—
Rep. Gresham Barrett (R-S.C.), whose fundraiser Pence will attend in the Palmetto State on Oct. 12, said Pence’s well-established conservative credentials would serve him well if he decided to pursue the presidency.
“It’s definitely a possibility,— Barrett said in a statement to Roll Call. “Mike is a compelling voice for conservatism. He conveys our Party’s principles with an uncommon clarity that resonates with every audience.—
Barrett added, “Who knows what [his future] has in store, but there’s absolutely no question that whatever he does, Mike Pence will be a leading voice in the debate for our Party’s future.—
Pence declined to comment for this article.
But the rumors are not new.
In 2006, Pence fans started a “Pence for President— Web site.
Several political observers speculated that Pence would parlay his public profile within the House Republican leadership into a serious run for the wide-open GOP presidential nomination.
Brian Howey, publisher of the Indiana-based Howey Politics Indiana, said Pence also could be a strong contender for governor in 2012, as current Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) is term limited.
“He seems to be a guy who is leaving his options open,— Howey said.
Howey noted that if Pence chose to run in Indiana, he would be the favorite candidate, but if he chose to stay in the House, he would find his way onto the short list for a vice presidential pick.
Howey also said that if Pence has presidential ambitions, the governor’s mansion would be a better launching pad than the House. But Roth argued that Pence’s leadership position in the House, along with his strong support from the conservative base, would remove that traditional hurdle.
Elected in 2000, Pence served as the chairman of the Republican Study Committee and frequently clashed with then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) over spending, an issue Republicans are increasingly embracing.
While Pence endeared himself to the right, the House Republican Conference rejected his leadership bid when he challenged Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) for the top post in 2006. Boehner defeated Pence by a 168-27 vote.
Pence is among several conservatives who could court the base carried by Huckabee in 2008.
In addition to Pence and Huckabee, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has made the trek to Iowa.
Republican pollster David Winston attributed the Pence presidential buzz to his success as a messenger for the House GOP.
“In terms of cable, in terms of the Internet, you can actually generate a pretty high level of awareness,— Winston said. “He has had some situations that he has been on some national television shows and done well.—
Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), a close friend and ally to Pence in the House, said he was unaware of a Pence bid but praised him in his current role as conference chairman.
“As one of Mike Pence’s greatest friends and closest allies, if he were running for president, I think I would know about it,— Hensarling said. “Right now he’s doing a great job helping us recapture the majority in his position as conference chairman. Now listen, he’s a bright young, articulate leader, and I think he has a bright future in front of him.—