GOP Rep. Pence Is Part Reagan, Part Kennedy

The potential 2012 presidential candidate says it’s time to shift back to a traditional presidential model.

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You’re about to start hearing a lot about a conservative Republican Indiana congressman, Rep. Mike Pence. That’s because the Hoosier, considered a shoo-in to win the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2012, is weighing a challenge to outgoing Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and about 10 others in the Republican presidential primaries. “We’ve gotten encouragement to run for governor in 2012,” says Pence, a former broadcaster. “We’ve also gotten more than a little bit of encouragement to consider running for president.” [Read more about the 2012 presidential election.]

While Pence will decide in the spring, the presidency currently has his attention. Not just because he thinks President Obama is stretching the traditional boundaries of the office and isn’t worthy. “The current administration is the most egregious example of excess,” he says, accusing Obama of treating the nation like “a dog whose duty is not to ask why . . . but simply to obey.” As he considers a run, Pence also has become a student of the presidency and recently delivered thoughtful speeches on the office. He concludes that the president needs to back off and let American ingenuity take over. “You get government under control; you get government out of the way; then America will come roaring back. And America will be the story again,” he says. Of course, his target is Obama when he adds: “I think it sounds difficult to do, but in a certain way it would be very easy for the president not to simply be on TV every day. Start to wean the American people off every utterance of the presidency and the national government.” [See who donates money to Pence.]

The white-haired Pence, 51, can’t cite where he got the presidential bug but does know when it started. As a kid, he kept a memory box and filled it with stories about President John F. Kennedy. The former Democrat recalls once working with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, who looked startled when Pence mentioned he had a bust of JFK in his campaign office because he appreciated the moderate positions of the senator’s brother.

But he sees Ronald Reagan as “the last president in my lifetime to really model a traditional American presidency.”

While some may say Daniels is the better-positioned Hoosier for 2012, the social and fiscal conservative Pence senses an advantage. He won’t go along with Daniels’s push for a truce on social issues to let candidates focus on economic topics. “To those who say we should simply focus on fiscal issues,” Pence says, “I say you would not be able to print enough money in 1,000 years to pay for the government you would need if the traditional family collapses.”

Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR.

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  • See who donates money to Rep. Mike Pence.