USNews came out with this profile on Mike Pence today titled "And now, batting right."
Rep. Mike Pence compares himself to the old baseball player in the movie The Natural. And it's not, he chuckles, because he's got Robert Redford's good looks.
Like the Redford character, Roy Hobbs, the grizzled home-run hitter who comes back after a long hiatus, the silver-haired Indiana Republican is on a roll after years of trying unsuccessfully to break into the major leagues. "What made him so committed to winning, so committed to the integrity of the game," says the 46-year-old Pence, comparing himself to the fictional sports star, "was it took him so long to get there." Pence ran for Congress in 1988 and lost, ran two years after that and lost. Today, however, in his third term on Capitol Hill, he has emerged as a powerful force, moving Congress further to the right.
Rising star. Known as a "conservative's conservative" on fiscal and social issues, Pence chairs an influential group of more than 110 Republican spending hawks who are winning major victories in their battle for smaller government. Under Pence, the group has broken ranks with party leadership and moderates, often clashing with President Bush. Conservative members love his steady leadership style and intelligent articulation of conservative values. "He is clearly a rising star among conservatives and a man we believe will be a major influential player in the process of reforming our government in the years to come," says Bill Lauderback, executive vice president of the American Conservative Union, which gave Pence its highest score of 100 percent for the past two years.
The latest internecine GOP battle is over next year's $2.8 trillion budget. Moderates want at least $7 billion in extra spending for education, healthcare, and other social programs. But Pence and like-minded colleagues created havoc by coercing the House leadership to crack down on two notorious budgetbusting categories: earmarks (also known as pork barrel projects) and "emergency" items. Members of the Appropriations Committee, which writes the checks, balked at the restrictions. They refused to finish a budget bill, forcing embarrassed House leaders to slink off for their Easter recess with nothing to show. "It's unfortunate," said Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis, "that the whims of a few would prevent the overwhelming majority of our members from once again enjoying similar budgetary success."
Pence and his allies, however, can hardly be called "a few." More than 110 House Republicans out of a total of 231 belong to the conservative Republican Study Committee that he chairs. Over 20 Republicans joined the committee since Pence took the helm two years ago. Under Pence's leadership, the committee has played a pivotal role in a House closely divided between Democrats and Republicans. It helped push the House last year to pass the deficit reduction bill, which Bush signed into law, even though Democrats and Republican moderates protested that it cut important spending for healthcare and education.
Most committee members say they elected Pence not only for his leadership abilities but for his media savvy and communication skills. His own communication training began more than a decade ago when he started hosting a call-in radio show, which eventually ran on 18 stations across Indiana. He still guest-hosts a program aired in Indianapolis from microphones set up next to his desk in his office in the Cannon House Office Building.
Pence wants his fellow conservatives to be equally adept on the air. Every Wednesday, when the committee meets in the basement of the Capitol, Pence hosts a "media minute," in which he plays a recent video clip of one of the members. "He's certainly the most effective communicator we've had," says Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a friend and member of the RSC. "He allows a good debate and has a willingness to hear other voices."
Pence often refers to himself as "a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order." But it wasn't always so. Pence was born into a family of Democratic Irish Catholics in Columbus, Ind. His father, a decorated Army veteran who served in Korea, ran several gas stations. In the late 1970s, Pence first campaigned as a Democrat in Bartholomew County, Ind. Today, he still keeps a box of keepsakes of John F. Kennedy, a hero to his family, in his garage in Columbus.
Conversion. But he began a metamorphosis around the time he went to Hanover College. He converted to evangelical Christianity, and he changed his politics as well--becoming inspired by Ronald Reagan's conservatism of less taxes and smaller government. After graduating from Indiana University law school, he started a quest for Congress that pushed his ideological zeal to the limits with a series of tough attack ads against his opponent. After his two early losses, he had one more conversion: He apologized for the negative ads and took a step back. He ran a regional conservative think tank and began a talk radio career with the Mike Pence Show. The new Pence likened himself to "Rush Limbaugh on decaf," pounding the hard-right policy points, but in a polite tone.
After almost 10 years on the air, the name recognition helped catapult Pence back into politics, and he was elected to represent east-central Indiana in 2000. Pence felt as if he had finally arrived--but with regrets because he missed the Republican takeover in 1994. "I'm like the minuteman," he jokes, "who showed up 10 years late for the Revolution."
Pence moved with his wife, Karen, and three kids to Washington. When he arrived, he was made part of Rep. Tom DeLay's whip team, eventually getting promoted to deputy whip. But Pence was increasingly at odds with the Republican leadership and with President Bush. While he supports the president's policies on Iraq, he has opposed him on a wide range of his other priorities, including the budget, the No Child Left Behind Act, the Dubai ports deal, and the Medicare prescription drug bill. Pence's unwillingness to toe the party line eventually caused him to give up the whip position when he was elected to chair the Study Committee. "No man," he says, "can serve two masters."
Having won re-election by wide margins in 2002 and 2004, Pence is expected to keep his seat in the upcoming election. His name surfaces as a potential future candidate for House leadership, a move he doesn't rule out. But Republican aides and strategists agree that, for now, he is most effective on the outside.
Whether he can pull off the political equivalent of the Natural's towering home runs is anyone's guess. But for the moment, Pence is clearly on a winning streak.
Born: June 7, 1959
Family: Married to Karen.
Children: Michael, Charlotte, and Audrey
Education: Hanover College, B.A., 1981; Indiana University, J.D., 1986
Career: Attorney, 1986-91; president, Indiana Policy Review Foundation, 1991-1993; radio and TV broadcaster, 1992-1999. Congress, 2001-presentAnd Now, Batting Right