House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana is inching closer to his anticipated decision to step aside as the House GOP’s third-ranked member, a move prompted by his aspirations for higher office as well as his growing irritation with the internal maneuverings of the House GOP.
Senior GOP aides say that while they are unaware of any move by Pence to officially inform Minority Leader John Boehner of his intention to vacate his conference post, they expect Pence to step aside when Republicans choose new leaders after the November 2 elections.
Should the Republicans win back the House on Tuesday, the position open behind Boehner as Speaker and Eric Cantor as majority leader would be that of House Majority Whip -- a job that essentially oversees lining up and counting votes on important legislation, especially those bills seen as important to leadership. But those duties would place significant time demands in Washington on a potential candidate for other office.
It has been well-known that Pence has been mulling possible bids in 2012 for governor or even president -- and that continues to play a main role in his thinking, according to sources. But Pence, 51, also has become agitated with some of the internal maneuverings of the GOP conference, most recently when he and his staff were excluded from helping to design the "Pledge to America," the conference’s new governing manifesto.
For now, says an aide, the onetime conservative radio talk show is focused on Tuesday’s midterm elections. He is not talking openly about whether he will leave House GOP leadership just as his party seems on the brink of recapturing the majority.
“It's always been his intention to seek reelection as conference chair in the next Congress. Looking past November 2 is premature, however,” said Matt Lloyd, his spokesman.
But even Pence himself has acknowledged he has been eyeing higher office.
And this year, Pence has been busy traveling the 2012 political terrain with visits to Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida. In addition, he has been a regular attendee of higher-profile GOP gatherings, including the Values Voter Summit and the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, winning the 2012 straw poll at the VVS in September.
This week alone, aides noted that Pence has already campaigned for House GOP candidates in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Florida, and Indiana. Such stumping could leave him with a stack of political chips to cash in should he decide to run for higher office in 2012.
Pence, elected to his House seat in 2000, spent much of last year considering a run for Senate. But in January, Pence said he had decided against it, after much prayer -- and what analysts say was also likely hesitancy to take on Democrat Evan Bayh’s hefty campaign war chest. By the time Bayh announced he would not run again, Pence had already bowed out.
Pence explained to supporters on his Facebook page that he had decided against a bid for the Senate “because I believe we will win back the majority in the House of Representatives in 2010, and I am excited to be a part of it.” He added, “I believe the best chance this nation has to restore fiscal discipline, common sense and common values to Washington, D.C., is for conservatives to retake the House in 2010.”
But even then, Pence went on to say that “I hope that God will someday permit me to perform some wider service to the people of Indiana and the country.”
Pence thinks he is a viable candidate for president because he has what aides describe as the perfect conservative voting record during the Obama and Bush administrations.
In addition, Pence was never that entusiatic about the conference chair job. The position was supposed to afford him a key role in shaping and communicating the House GOP’s agenda and policy positions, but he has felt left out, particularly on the drafting of the "Pledge to America."
The biggest beneficiaries of a Pence departure would include Reps. Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Kevin McCarthy of California.
McCarthy was the member tapped by Boehner to lead the crafting of the pledge document, and his office insists that Pence was an integral part of that process. "As a valuable member of the leadership team, Chairman Pence and his Conference staff were fully involved in the development of the Pledge from day one through the document's launch. Assertions to the contrary are uninformed and inaccurate,” said Brendan Buck, McCarthy's spokesman.
Hensarling is an energetic conservative who raised a ton of money as National Republican Congressional Committee finance chair, though he has only a long-shot chance of landing the Financial Services Committee chair he is described as wanting.
Leadership Republicans are also eyeing the elevation of women into positions of prominence, and one name rapidly rising is Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., Pence’s current conference vice chair. Senior House aides say her role will expand, but it's unclear exactly how. Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois -- who was vice chair of the pledge effort -- also is being mentioned as a contender.
Susan Davis and Major Garrett contributed contributed to this article.
This article appears in the October 27, 2010 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.