Is Gov. Mike Pence the GOP’s Dark Horse in 2016?
Policy + Politics

Is Gov. Mike Pence the GOP’s Dark Horse in 2016?

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Indiana’s Republican governor, Mike Pence, says he is in New York for two days this week “to tell Indiana’s story and do all we can to reinforce our message that Indiana is a state that works.”

Not coincidentally, his economic development trip to the Big Apple early this week kicked off with a keynote speech to an influential conservative gathering in Manhattan on Monday night, boosting recent speculation that the 54-year-old governor and former congressman might quietly be eyeing a potential bid for the GOP nomination to the White House in 2016.

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“Is this an economic development trip, or a political trip, or who is paying for it?” asked Indiana Democratic Party Chair John Zody on Monday. The Indiana Economic Development Corporation, a public-private entity, is picking up the tab, according to The Indianapolis Star.

After a robust defense of his state for its balanced budget (required by law) as well as its fast-growing workforce, the trim and white-haired Pence, who assumed the governor’s office last January, was asked pointedly whether he’s considering making a 2016 run for the White House. Out came the applause from the crowd – and Pence’s references to cornfields, kindness and humility.

“I’m a guy that grew up in a small town with a cornfield in my backyard,” he said. “Any time I’m mentioned, or talked to, about the highest office in the land, it’s deeply humbling. But my focus is Indiana. And I really believe some of the kind comments that have been made about us are more a reflection of the progress that the people of Indiana have been making.”

That wasn’t good enough for some. “If we as conservatives call upon you as our nominee for the Republican Party for 2016, would you accept?” asked one of the panelists.  

The governor took no bait. “Let me just say, I’m honored and humbled…” he began again.

Earlier in the evening, Pence – a virtual unknown in many parts of the country – took a few easy swipes at Congress, with some qualification.   

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“I was elected governor of the state of Indiana in 2012 after a dozen years of service [in Congress]. And people ask me sometimes, ‘Do you miss Congress?’ I say, ‘You ever been to Congress?’”

After the laughter subsided, he said, “I tell them, I miss some of the people – some of the finest, most dedicated Americans I ever met in my life. But the institution I don’t miss. I will say, if I only had 12 years left to live, I’d want to live it as a member of Congress. ‘Cause that was the longest 12 years of my life.”

He added, “The truth is Washington isn’t working. Hasn’t been working for a while. I was there when Republicans had the White House, and we had the Senate, and we had the House. And I was part of a small group of conservatives that were actually finding ourselves more often than not battling against our own president on spending issues and big government issues. The truth is, we haven’t had government as good as our people at the national level for quite a while.”

Pence, a small-government enthusiast who entered Congress in 2001, was one of a handful of Republicans who voted against both No Child Left Behind and the Medicare prescription drug bill. He also supported the failed effort to have Hurricane Katrina recovery spending offset by cuts in other parts of the federal budget.

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Speaking Monday night as a state executive with just a little over a year in that role, he gave a robust defense of his state: “We’ll finish this fiscal year with $100 million in the bank and nearly $2 billion in reserves. We were able to pass the largest state tax cut in Indiana history, cut red tape, and at the same time increase funding for roads and bridges, expand educational choice and restore recent cuts in traditional education. The results speak for themselves. Indiana has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the Midwest and one of the fastest growing workforces in the U.S.”

Pence was doing, of course, what governors do: “In Washington, D.C., they’re always focused on who’s next,” he said Monday night. “As governor of Indiana, I’m focused on what’s next: How can we advance policies that are going to put more Hoosiers back to work. How can we promote reforms that will extend more educational opportunities to more disadvantaged kids in our state? How can we promote the kind of innovation that’s going to promote the health and well-being of Indiana’s families and kids?”

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