An independent campaign to draw GOP Rep. Mike Pence into the 2012 presidential race is under way, with a veteran of the Reagan White House launching a petition drive on Monday urging him to enter the primary contests.
Ralph Benko, a deputy counsel to Ronald Reagan, announced the America's President Committee to encourage a Pence-for-president bid. Former Rep. Jim Ryan, R-Kan., is also helping the campaign to collect signatures from conservatives and tea party activists.
Immediately following the midterm elections, Pence announced he'd step down from his House GOP leadership position in the 112th Congress. It has since been reported that the Congressman is seriously weighing a bid to replace the term-limited Governor Mitch Daniels in his home state of Indiana (Daniels himself says he's "open to" a 2012 White House run). Still, the possibility of a Pence presidential gambit remains the subject of substantial buzz in conservative circles. RedState's Erick Erickson editorialized in favor of a bid earlier this month, arguing that Pence possesses an unique skill set and ideological combination that could transform him into a consensus pick:
We need someone who can bridge the gap between the establishment that usually picks the nominee and the grassroots who pour out their blood, sweat, tears, and money for the nominee.
Right now I see plenty of candidates the establishment really likes, but very few that the grassroots could agree on across the board. Certainly Romney fans like Romney. Pawlenty fans like Pawlenty, Huckabee fans like Huckabee. But largely those fans of the individual candidates then hate the other guy.
He bridges the gap between the establishment and the grassroots. He is in the comfort zone of both. He has a private sector background that shines in comparison to anything Barack Obama ever did before elected politics.* He has the free market think tank background to reassure fiscal conservatives. He has the social conservative bona fides to reassure the social conservatives who, this year, feel marginalized.
As Philip Klein writes, a Pence run could prove quixotic if history is any guide. Trivia time: No sitting member of the House of Representatives has won the presidency since James Garfield in 1881. Klein also suggests that it may be difficult for Pence to effectively attack Barack Obama's executive inexperience:
True, Obama had very little experience when he was elected. But look at the results. It'll be hard to argue, on one hand, that Obama's inexperience cost us dearly, and on the other hand, that we need to elect somebody inexperienced to replace him.
Perhaps, but Pence is a six-term, full time Congressman. Barack Obama was a part time state legislator before becoming, for all intents and purposes, a part time United States Senator. Still, it's hard to argue that Pence's dearth of major executive experience will help him in 2012 -- which may be precisely the reason he seems to be favoring a gubernatorial effort.
Pence has been invited to speak at CPAC next month. Whether he accepts, and the nature of his remarks if he does, may provide some clues regarding his immediate political ambitions. As the Associated Press reports, a number of rumored 2012 Republican hopefuls have already signed on to address the annual conservative confab: "Others potential 2012 candidates who accepted invitations: Romney, Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania."
Conspicuously absent from that list (for now): You know who.
UPDATE - Pence is not an official option on Townhall's Presidential Straw Poll, although his advocates could select the "someone else/undecided" option to register dissatisfaction with his exclusion. (In fairness, there isn't quite enough momentum just yet to merit Pence's inclusion on the list).
UPDATE II - This is certainly intriguing:
Political operatives in Austin tell me that Perry’s campaign team has been quietly polling voters outside of the Lone Star State to gauge his chances on the national stage.
With the November 2012 election 22 months away, Perry is hoping to gain some early traction.