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12 in 2012: Pence's Focus, Delivery of Message Has Supporters Looking at White House

 

A former radio talk show host, Indiana Republican Rep. Mike Pence knows how to stay on message -- a skill he proved during the final push before the midterm election earlier this month when he spent three days bussing around the Hoosier State in support of local candidates.

Since 2008, Pence has been the Republican Conference chairman, the third ranking member in the GOP House leadership and the member charged with keeping Republicans unified against congressional Democrats and President Obama.

He demonstrated that ability on several occasions during a congressional term in which every House Republican voted against the stimulus bill and every House Republican opposed the Democratic-sponsored health care bill.

"I believe House Republicans are back in the fight," Pence told Fox News' Bret Baier. "And we're back in the fight for fiscal discipline and reform."

Pence insists the federal budget can be balanced without raising taxes, but not without cutting entitlement spending. And he wants to do it without the "usual demagoguery of politics."

"I think the American people know that we have to take decisive action to put our fiscal house in order and that everything has to be on the table. That includes domestic spending. Frankly, it includes defense spending, and yes, it includes entitlements," he said.

Pence says Congress should promise to give anyone nearing retirement the “same deal they've been promised their whole life.”

But for Americans under 40, he says he has a “better deal.”

“We can reform Medicare and reform Social Security and give Americans a whole generation of time to be prepared for those changes,” he said.

Though a gifted speaker who finds his voice particularly on social issues like traditional marriage, religious liberty and the pro-life agenda, at other times Pence has found his words causing some trouble for the party.

For instance, during a trip to Iraq in 2007, at the height of the war when the insurgency and violence were at their worst, Pence said he was “not prepared to find a marketplace where thousands and thousands of Iraqis were moving about in regular everyday life like a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summertime."

The jeers have since subsided, and Pence says he is determined not to dwell on the reception he got.

“You know, I don't spend a lot of time looking in the rearview mirror. But, you know, what I'm proud of was when John McCain and I became the first folks to go outside the wire. To go out there with our troops to walk with the Iraqi people at the very beginning of the success of the surge. That's enormously satisfying to me. My ability to fumble the English language is not news to me," he said.

In September, Pence won the conservative Values Voters Summit straw poll, a showing that has some wondering if Pence might try to become the first sitting congressman elected president since James Garfield in 1880.

But in typical form for a potential contender, Pence is careful in answering questions about his plans.

"I have no plans to run for president in 2012," he said. "You know, for me, in my house, we'll continue to focus on the conservative values that carried us into public service. And we'll always ask the question, 'Where can we make the most difference for what's most important to us?' And we'll let the future take care of itself."

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said Pence has a good starting point from which to launch a possible bid.

"You have to have some people who feel intensely about you because the early primaries and caucuses are all about intense public feeling and relatively low turnouts. So it's good for Pence that the Tea Party and social values conservatives like him," Sabato said.

Pence said he believes House Republicans understand the Tea Party's quest for leaders who will stand up in Washington to reject "big government liberalism."

"I think that the opportunity for Republicans in the House of Representatives to provide that check on the big government liberalism of this administration is very real," he said, declining to offer the same endorsement of Senate Republicans led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Pence easily won re-election on Nov. 2 as House Republicans rode the Tea Party wave back into the majority. On Nov. 3, Pence announced he wouldn't seek reelection as conference chairman, an announcement that sparked more speculation that he is preparing for a 2012 White House run.

Watch “Special Report With Bret Baier” through Friday for the series “12 in 2012” -- profiles of potential GOP contenders for the White House.