And Now, Batting Right
Pence wants his fellow conservatives to be equally adept on the air. Every Wednesday, when the committee meets in the basement of the Capitol, Pence hosts a "media minute," in which he plays a recent video clip of one of the members. "He's certainly the most effective communicator we've had," says Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a friend and member of the RSC. "He allows a good debate and has a willingness to hear other voices."
Pence often refers to himself as "a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order." But it wasn't always so. Pence was born into a family of Democratic Irish Catholics in Columbus, Ind. His father, a decorated Army veteran who served in Korea, ran several gas stations. In the late 1970s, Pence first campaigned as a Democrat in Bartholomew County, Ind. Today, he still keeps a box of keepsakes of John F. Kennedy, a hero to his family, in his garage in Columbus.
Conversion. But he began a metamorphosis around the time he went to Hanover College. He converted to evangelical Christianity, and he changed his politics as well--becoming inspired by Ronald Reagan's conservatism of less taxes and smaller government. After graduating from Indiana University law school, he started a quest for Congress that pushed his ideological zeal to the limits with a series of tough attack ads against his opponent. After his two early losses, he had one more conversion: He apologized for the negative ads and took a step back. He ran a regional conservative think tank and began a talk radio career with the Mike Pence Show. The new Pence likened himself to "Rush Limbaugh on decaf," pounding the hard-right policy points, but in a polite tone.
After almost 10 years on the air, the name recognition helped catapult Pence back into politics, and he was elected to represent east-central Indiana in 2000. Pence felt as if he had finally arrived--but with regrets because he missed the Republican takeover in 1994. "I'm like the minuteman," he jokes, "who showed up 10 years late for the Revolution."
Pence moved with his wife, Karen, and three kids to Washington. When he arrived, he was made part of Rep. Tom DeLay's whip team, eventually getting promoted to deputy whip. But Pence was increasingly at odds with the Republican leadership and with President Bush. While he supports the president's policies on Iraq, he has opposed him on a wide range of his other priorities, including the budget, the No Child Left Behind Act, the Dubai ports deal, and the Medicare prescription drug bill. Pence's unwillingness to toe the party line eventually caused him to give up the whip position when he was elected to chair the Study Committee. "No man," he says, "can serve two masters."
Having won re-election by wide margins in 2002 and 2004, Pence is expected to keep his seat in the upcoming election. His name surfaces as a potential future candidate for House leadership, a move he doesn't rule out. But Republican aides and strategists agree that, for now, he is most effective on the outside.
Whether he can pull off the political equivalent of the Natural's towering home runs is anyone's guess. But for the moment, Pence is clearly on a winning streak.
Born: June 7, 1959
Family: Married to Karen.
Children: Michael, Charlotte, and Audrey
Education: Hanover College, B.A., 1981; Indiana University, J.D., 1986
Career: Attorney, 1986-91; president, Indiana Policy Review Foundation, 1991-1993; radio and TV broadcaster, 1992-1999. Congress, 2001-present