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Column: Pence: the woulda, shoulda GOP presidential candidate

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As we approach the end of 2013, it is tempting to reflect on the year that was in Indiana politics. Instead, just for fun, how about a look at the year that wasn’t?

The year actually began with the inaugurations of President Barack Obama in Washington and Gov. Mike Pence in Indianapolis. But I can’t help but wonder whether it might have been Mike Pence being sworn in as president and not Barack Obama on the Capitol’s west front last January had our governor chosen to join the presidential fray instead of running for governor.

Play along for a minute. The 2012 Republican presidential primary was a heckuva show that could charitably be characterized as Mitt Romney versus a bunch of other losers. Most of those others had a moment, however briefly, as the frontrunner, as the non-Romney.

Michele Bachmann won the Iowa Straw poll and did a victory lap on the Sunday morning shows. Later that day, Rick Perry joined the race. This was Bachmann’s high water mark. She dropped out after a disappointing finish in the Iowa caucuses.

Herman Cain and his “9-9-9 Plan” ever so briefly made it to the top of the “alternative to Romney” pack before his past caught up with him.

Perry seemed like a likely candidate to challenge Romney for three reasons. He was a successful big-state governor with a good economic record, he had the ability to raise millions of dollars, and, and, and I forget the other one. “Oops.”

Jon Huntsman was allegedly a candidate for president, although it is hard now to remember why or what effect his campaign had on anything or anyone in any state.

Newt Gingrich won South Carolina and then followed his ego to Florida looking for a knockout blow to Romney. Had Newt skipped Florida (per the recommendations of his advisers) to focus on Oklahoma, Alabama, Mississippi, Colorado and anywhere else where he might have actually had a chance to pick up some delegates, he might have actually, as he boldly predicted, been the nominee.

Did Newt really think the boys from Boston wouldn’t have wrapped up Florida in early and absentee voting? Those guys managed to win the Iowa caucuses for Mitt, despite spending almost no time, money or effort to do so.

Well, Romney only won Iowa for a few days, until a recount (or whatever the caucus version of a recount is) determined Rick Santorum had actually won.

Robbed of his clean Iowa victory, Santorum put on a low-budget sweater-vested show and managed to be the last man standing against Romney. Faced with the prospect of losing his home state of Pennsylvania, he eventually dropped out.

And so the question we must consider: Is not Pence a much, much better Santorum than Santorum? They are both committed conservatives who can talk about economic issues without sounding like they just stepped out of the boardroom. But Pence is an altogether more positive figure with a better personality, and he hadn’t lost his last election by 17 points.

So while Pence would have surely made a better last-man-standing than Santorum, it also seems likely that he would have made a better general election candidate than Romney. There’s no way Pence would have made a “47 percent” comment. You want to know why? Because he doesn’t believe it.

No offshore tax shelters, no elevator in his garage, no Olympic-caliber dancing horse.

Oh, the Obama team would have bruised and battered Pence, no doubt. But they would have had a hard time turning him into an uncaring, unfeeling corporate automaton because he isn’t one.

Republicans didn’t warm up to Romney until late in the election. Really late, like first-debate late. The more likable and approachable Pence would have unified the party more quickly and would have cut a stark contrast to Obama.

Instead, Pence became governor and set about taking charge of state government.

But surely I’m not the only person to wonder what might have been in 2013. And I can’t help but wonder what that might mean for 2016.

Cam Savage is a principal at Limestone Strategies and a veteran of numerous Republican campaigns and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He is a graduate of Franklin College. He can be reached at

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