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Column: Pence’s best chance for White House in 2016?


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 Mike Pence refuses to rule out running for president.

Here’s some other shocking news:

The sun will rise in the east tomorrow morning. And Charlie Sheen likes to take a drink every now and then.

Pence created a small wave in the national media ocean when he appeared recently on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown.” Host Chuck Todd pressed Pence on whether he planned to run for president in 2016.

Pence demurred by saying that he wasn’t thinking about anything but doing the job he was “hired for,” serving as Indiana’s governor. (Translation: He’s already thinking about what desk he would have in the Oval Office and figuring out which of his friends and relatives will get to stay in the Lincoln Bedroom first.)

Todd pushed the point and asked Pence if he was ruling out running for the White House in two years. Pence ducked the question and talked instead about the many splendors of Indiana. (Translation: See previous translation.)

Asking a politician if he or she has aspirations for higher office is one of the more pointless journalistic exercises. It’s akin to asking an employee in any other occupation whether she or he ever wants a raise or a promotion.

Only an idiot says “no.”

And Pence is no idiot.

The conventional wisdom following Pence’s tap dance on MSNBC was that he wasn’t focusing on 2016 but instead just wanted to keep his name in the mix for presidential contests down the line. He’s a first-term governor from a small state, the reasoning goes, and he’ll have a better shot if he waits until he completes a second term and has more to show from his time running an executive branch.

Maybe, but I’m not so sure.

The fact is that Americans in the 21st century have been willing, even eager, to send relatively untried leaders to the White House. When he took the oath of office in 2001, George Bush’s tenure as an elected official was about six years, the time he spent as governor of Texas.

And the current occupant of the Oval Office, Barack Obama, had been a U.S. senator for four years and before that a state senator from Illinois before he claimed the nation’s highest office.

Not having a long or deep track record in office didn’t stop Bush or Obama from claiming the big prize. In fact, both beat candidates (Al Gore, a sitting vice president who previously had been in Congress for nearly 20 years, and John McCain, who had been a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate for three decades) with much more extensive public service resumes and much longer lists of accomplishments.

There’s also the fact that getting re-elected governor isn’t a lock for Pence.

He won in 2012 with less than 50 percent of the vote against a Democratic opponent, John Gregg, whom he heavily outspent and who still was building name recognition as the race entered October. Even so, Gregg came within 3 points of beating Pence and was closing fast on Election Day.

If Pence faces in 2016 a Democrat who gets out of the gate more quickly or who can match him dollar for dollar in spending, he could have a problem.

There are whispers that Democratic heavyweight Evan Bayh, a former two-term governor and two-term U.S. senator from Indiana, is contemplating another run for the governor’s office. Bayh’s willingness to be the focus of this year’s Gridiron Dinner — the Indiana political class’s answer to a celebrity roast — has done nothing to quell that speculation.

Pence’s chances of making it to the White House as a governor defeated in a bid for re-election wouldn’t be good.

Conventional wisdom says Pence should wait to make his run for the Rose Garden.

The realities that presidential candidates no longer need big resumes and that Pence can’t be guaranteed a second term as Indiana’s governor together suggest a different kind of wisdom.

That wisdom says Pence shouldn’t put off for tomorrow what he can do today.

Or at least in 2016.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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