The Journal Gazette
 
 
Sunday, July 17, 2016 8:06 pm

Unlikely pick looks shrewd to observers

Niki Kelly and Brian Francisco | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – The stack of reasons working against Mike Pence in his bid to become the Republican vice presidential nominee was daunting.

He comes from a flyover state whose electoral votes are assured for the GOP.

He isn’t particularly well-known or high-profile outside of political circles.

He has a low approval rating in his own state.

He earned national ridicule last year in a discrimination debacle.

And he had no personal relationship with Donald Trump, who Pence didn’t even vote for in the primary.

But he aced his final test and overcame the odds to join the ticket.

Laura Merrifield Albright, assistant professor of political science at the University of Indianapolis, said Pence doesn’t fit the typical vice presidential mold. The running mate is usually not a major contributor in terms of influencing voters and is associated with someone willing to do the dirty work.

"In this case, it is very much the opposite. Pence is the more calm, composed foil to Trump’s brash personality, and Trump has proven he does not mind … partaking in the dirty side of politics," she said.

"I actually think Pence is a great pick because he will play more of the traditional presidential role in this way and allow Trump to still maintain his persona."

Paul Helmke, a former three-term mayor of Fort Wayne and the founding director of the Civic Leaders Living-Learning Center at Indiana University, said Pence is "somebody who’s got executive and legislative experience, who looks good, who sounds good at least in short bursts most of the time; who’s disciplined, who knows when to shut up and when to talk. He’s not going to hurt at all.

"The first rule for a VP is do no harm."

University of Virginia’s Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato – whose Crystal Ball predicts elections – said Pence doesn’t bring any electoral votes with him, but, looking at recent history, not a single VP nominee from 2000-2012 brought any swing states to their party.

"We don’t have normal years anymore. He’s a governor. Why not?" Sabato said. "The only unusual part of it is that he was running for re-election."

And Pence does bring some significant advantages.

The most talked-about is that he is unabashedly conservative. He is a Christian with a strong pro-life record; has opposed gay marriage; tried to bar Syrian refugees in Indiana; and sometimes has challenged his own party.

Pence has a solid if unspectacular record governing – including balanced budgets and tax cuts that sparkle compared with runaway federal spending.

He is a devoted husband and family man with a polished, scandal-free image.

And after 12 years in Congress, he knows the ins and outs of Washington, D.C. – even possessing a closeness with the Koch brothers, who have kept their money on the sideline of the presidential race.

"He’s a great pick in the short term. He can get his Rolodex of former House colleagues who are cool on Trump and maybe have them come to Cleveland or not be openly anti-Trump," said IPFW political science professor Michael Wolf. "He also collected a ton of checks at the Capitol Hill club from big donors who have stayed out so far. There should be a burst of checks quickly."

David McIntosh, president of the fiscally conservative Club for Growth, called Pence a principled, stand-up guy – especially on economic issues.

"There are political risks for him because Trump is a loose cannon, and he’ll be associated with that," said McIntosh, who grew up in Kendallville and preceded Pence in Congress.

But he said Trump’s selection of Pence makes the GOP ticket "a stronger ticket, a better, more conservatively anchored ticket, and that is something we like."

The Club for Growth ran a reported $1.5 million in TV advertisements opposing Trump ahead of the Indiana primary election, in which Trump defeated club-endorsed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to become the presumptive nominee.

McIntosh said his group will not be involved in the fall presidential race and instead will concentrate on congressional contests.

But he said Club for Growth members "look at that combination of Donald Trump and Mike Pence and say, ‘Yeah, that’s a more economic conservative pair.’ We’re pleased about that. … I think all of them would say this is a better ticket than without Mike."

While some Republicans have distanced themselves from Trump – including a number of possible VP contenders – Pence wanted nothing more than to rejoin the national stage.

"From Pence’s side, this makes total sense," Helmke said. "Pence is ambitious, he’s toyed with running for president. ... Being a VP candidate, even if you lose, it puts you up above everybody else (among GOP presidential hopefuls). If Trump wins, Pence is VP. If Trump loses, Pence isn’t blamed for the defeat."

Helmke said Pence could use the attention from being on the losing side of a national ticket as a springboard to run against Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., in 2018 or for president in 2020.

"The focus is on you, the spotlight is on you, everybody’s got your name on a bumper sticker. (Voters) don’t just forget that right away," Helmke said.

In terms of past vice presidential candidates, Wolf compared Pence to Lloyd Bentsen – the Democrat Party nominee for vice president in 1988 on the Michael Dukakis ticket.

"He provided Dukakis with an experienced and respected leader who had beaten George H.W. Bush in Texas," Wolf said. "He wasn’t flashy but wasn’t going to do any damage. Steady and safe and ready for any policy question for nominees who lack some broad policy expertise."

Sabato likens the Pence choice to fellow Hoosier Dan Quayle in 1988 – "he was a surprise pick, came with controversies, and was a statewide GOP officeholder in Indiana."

Fort Wayne City Councilman Mitch Harper – who attended last week’s Trump rally to hear Pence – said the governor speaks to conservative groups that haven’t warmed up to Trump yet.

"The fact that he isn’t splashy isn’t a bad thing. Who is going to outsplash Donald Trump?"

nkelly@jg.net

bfrancisco@jg.net

   

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