The Indiana Conservative Everyone's Talking About

Governor Mike Pence checks a lot of boxes for the GOP in 2016.

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Governor Mike Pence is not a household name yet outside of Indiana, but he's getting dangerously close. The Wall Street Journal published a friendly column last week heralding a "small groundswell" for them among conservative activists. The conservative Daily Caller dubbed him the "2016 dark horse to watch." Then, the Indianapolis Star weighed in with a Sunday story proclaiming Pence an ideal vice presidential candidate for the GOP.

"He has a consistent conservative, small government record, along with pro-life views that would play well in Republican primaries," wrote Russ Pulliam. "Yet, he's not going flat-out for the presidency." 

Conservative activists -- many unhappy with the emerging GOP field -- are behind the push. As a congressman, Pence headed the conservative Republican Study Group and helped start the Tea Party Caucus. In the statehouse, he built off the fiscal achievements of his predecessor, Mitch Daniels, who considered his own presidential run in 2012. (A messy separation and eventual reunion with his wife prompted him to think twice about dragging his family through the harsh spotlight of a presidential bid.)

His work in Indiana -- along with a 99 percent rating from the American Conservative Union -- has left the Republican political class chattering.  The reasoning goes something like this: With Pence's record, he can unite the fiscal and conservative wings of the party base. As a governor, he's not really a Washington insider, despite his two-terms in Congress. As a former radio talk show host, he looks and sounds good.  As for his lack of foreign policy experience? Well, no one will be able to compete against Hillary Clinton on that topic, so why really try? 

"Someone like Pence who is a fresh face, he could probably run against everybody else and be a novelty,'' said California political consultant Bill Whalen.

But, Pence would also face some serious challenges. Raising money and name recognition wouldn't be easy in such a crowded field. And some conservatives would certainly object to his decision to accept the federal money Obamacare provides to fund the expansion of state Medicaid programs.

For his part, Pence is more than happy to encourage the speculation. This month, he was in Iowa headlining a fundraiser for Governor Terry Branstad and attending a trade conference of Midwest governors and Japanese leaders. A few weeks earlier, he spoke at the Americans for Prosperity conference, an annual summit hosted by the Koch brothers. And in April, he headed to Germany on a trade mission where he assailed President Obama’s “policy of conciliatory diplomacy.”

Pence has said he's undecided about a run and is focused on his job in Indiana. Of course, two years before an election, that's exactly what a presidential candidate would say.

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