Matt Lewis

The case against Pence: 3 reasons to be skeptical of the silver-haired savior

Last night, I listed five reasons Mike Pence might be the 2016 dark horse to watch. If you don’t have time to read the column, the reasons are easily summed up by something GOP media consultant Paul Wilson told me: “[H]e has a rare mix of executive and legislative experience.  Conservative issues ‘cred,’ fundraising chops and media skills.”

That’s all true. But this still isn’t a slam dunk. There are at least three big reasons to be skeptical:

1. First, Pence might not even run for president. For one thing, his gubernatorial re-election is in 2016. It’s also worth noting that conservatives tried to draft him to run for president in 2011, and he (I think wisely) turned them down. This might speak to his prudent judgment — or it might be indicative of a candidate who lacks the requisite “fire in the belly” to take a bold leap.

2. Strengths can also be weaknesses. Last night, I argued that Pence’s looks and conservative bona fides are a plus. But not everyone is sold on this silver-haired savior. Brian Lunde, a former executive director of the DNC who later supported George W. Bush, told me: “I think [Pence] brings a deadly combination to a general election electorate. He looks like a country club Republican (same problem as Romney) and he is perceived to be a crusader on social issues like abortion. Most voters will look at him and instantly judge him as ‘not like me.'”

Additionally, I argued that being “under the radar” was an advantage for Pence, but this also comes at a price. “He has a unique ability to articulate the conservative vision, says Patrick Hynes, President of Hynes Communications, who lives in New Hampshire and advised two past Republican nominees. “But he is virtually unknown in New Hampshire,
which would prove to be a significant drawback.”

3.  The verdict is out on whether he can build a campaign worthy of the candidate. A lot of strategists I talked to — even folks who are otherwise complimentary of Pence — are skeptical he can build a top-notch operation. “[H]e needs to focus so building a national network of donors and political types and he needs to highlight some of his reforms he has undertaken in Indiana,” says Dave Carney a respected Republican strategist who worked for Rick Perry. “It would be a huge uphill fight due to the size of his state, but he might be the dark horse if things remain predictable.”

“He doesn’t have a big core of friends,” laments another top consultant. “Unlike Jack Kemp, who made the House an organizational tool to unsuccessfully run for national office, Pence never did. Does he have the ability to be more than a one-man band and attract talent and be that guy?”

That’s the million dollar question.