May 28, 2014

KITCHELL: Pence not a silver bullet, but in the arsenal


---- — We’re T-minus two years and about six months away from the presidential election and the candidate names are being vetted.

Among the contenders in the GOP field are the two most likely nominees, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has been mentioned as a possible contender in some circles, and if you have caught some of his most recent speeches, you’ll sense maybe a bit of posturing that would position him to be in the mix of names for a No. 2 slot on the ballot.

While it is unlikely that Pence would make the ballot as a first-term governor, there are several factors to consider about his attractiveness as a candidate.

The first is that 2016 is also a year when the Indiana governor’s race will be on the ballot, which means if he accepts the No. 2 slot on the Republiccan ballot he’ll be stepping down as governor and leaving the GOP a bit exposed in Indiana. If he is serious about running for president in 2016, that likely means he’ll drop out of the running for governor early, particularly if former Sen. Evan Bayh seeks the governor’s office again. That however presumes Bayh won’t be in the mix for vice president if Hillary Clinton runs, and indications are that she will.

As for Pence, some of the factors in play are his record as governor and what a Paul or Christie would need in a running mate. It’s unlikely Paul would pick a running mate from a neighboring state, but it would make sense for him to pick a governor and it would provide a balance that Bill Clinton and Al Gore had when they won in both 1992 and 1996.

It would seem to make more sense for Christie to pick Pence because Christie would presumably be able to carry a Democratic state on the East Coast, but would need help in the Midwest. The South is almost solidly Republican, and if Christie picks up his own state, Ohio and a few Midwest states, he should be able to carry the day.

Pence has been virtually under the radar of the race so far. He’s done little to be controversial other than to reject Common Core standards which could hurt him in the national picture. Implementing the health care alternative plan to Obamacare could be a plus.

Where Pence is still undefined is his agenda beyond a state property tax cut. There’s not much there, and if he had an extensive legislative record in Congress he could use that as a crutch, but there’s not that much there either.

What this means is that Pence, if he is serious about being a candidate, is going to have to do more in terms of weighing in on all issues so that voters become more acquainted with where he stands on certain issues. He’s long been a staunch pro-life candidate, but beyond that, it’s hard to associate him and his positions on various issues.

Perhaps the best thing Pence has going for him is that he’s not among the off-the-wall Republican candidates out there that includes former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. He may not have some of the strengths of the major candidates, but he lacks many of the major negatives that some of them have as well, including any experience in Washington. Relatively speaking, he has a clean slate with little baggag which should play well for him.

Republicans recalling the candidacy of the last Hoosier vice president in the No. 2 slot may not be too eager to slate Pence there in 2016, but it will have been 24 years since the last Dan Quayle candidacy and many voters will have forgotten about the last incumbent Republican ticket to be beaten.

One advantage Pence has if he does hope to be on the ticket is that the field is relatively shallow. The Republicans emptied out the candidate drawer in 2012 and many of those names will likely not make another bid.

Mike Pence will not be the magic bullet that allows Republicans to capture the presidency in 2016, but by virtue of being a sitting governor with Washington experience, he is in the arsenal that will be vetted for consideration for the No. 2 seat.

Dave Kitchell is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at