By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
Officially, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, the No. 3 GOP House member, has been traveling the nation to help the 2010 crop of Republican House candidates raise money and attention. But with visits to California, Iowa, and now South Carolina, the buzz is growing that he's also testing the waters for a potential 2012 presidential bid based on his populist and conservative message.
And so far, so good for the House Republican Conference chairman who's been in demand by grass-roots Republican organizations and tea party activists ever since he used a speech before the populist group Americans for Prosperity to suggest that the nation is on the verge of another political shift to the right. In that speech, he said that there is a "great American awakening" going on that could lead to a new GOP majority built on a desire to junk socialist trends some see in the administration's agenda. One applause line that he's been repeating on campaign stops: "You know that a recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose your job. And a recovery is when Nancy Pelosi loses her job."
On Monday, he visited early primary state South Carolina to campaign and raise money for Rep. Gresham Barrett. But it was his meeting with the Charleston County Republican Party that gave hints of a bigger political future for Pence. Expecting to meet just with the executive committee, Pence was greeted by some 100 state Republican activists who gave his campaign-style pitch six standing ovations. "He about fell over when he came into the room," says an associate. During his speech, he used some of his lines from the earlier Americans for Prosperity event, such as his reference to the summer's antitax tea party movement that culminated in the September 12 march on Washington. "Now, you know, the media and some politicians can pretend not to notice. But trust me, that's an act. I'll never forget that feeling I had on that day a couple of weeks ago, on September the 12th. It was the march on Washington rally," he said. "I was amazed at what I saw. The New York Times said there were thousands of Americans gathered. Fox News Channel said there were a billion. But to be honest with you, there were over 1 million people in Washington, D.C., taking a stand for freedom."
Aides won't even whisper about a presidential bid, but Republican officials say that Pence is moving into the A list of conservatives to be watched. They also say that the poll-leading candidates like Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee haven't captured the support of the tea party movement, creating an opening for populists like Pence.