The official announcement has been delayed, ostensibly due to the grisly truck attack in France on Thursday, but a profusion of signs point to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump picking Gov. Mike Pence to be his running mate.
Observers here, Democrats and Republicans alike, see the pick as being good for Trump. Even those who strongly criticize Trump see Pence as a vice presidential candidate whose strengths could compensate for some of Trump’s weaknesses.
The national press will “focus on how much his policies differ from Trump’s, but isn’t that what we want?” said state Rep. David Ober of Albion, a Republican who’s been strongly critical of Trump but who supports Pence.
“That’s what I’m looking for: somebody who has some sense of what our policies should be.”
Democrat Win Moses hedged as so many do when they strive to interpret Trump’s motives. “I can’t claim to understand Trump’s direction, but he’s been successful with that direction. And he must feel (choosing Pence) brings him some advantage,” Moses said. But Moses said Pence is a choice who meets the most important standard: “Do no harm.” That is, Pence won’t hurt Trump’s candidacy.
Moses, who was mayor of Fort Wayne for two terms and served in the Indiana House of Representatives for 20 years, said he thinks that Pence will help reassure conservatives most concerned about social issues, and Pence’s style and tone could help balance Trump’s signature bombast.
“Mike’s a calming presence,” Moses said.
Pence is “less bombastic. He’s more even-keeled. He’s got superb message discipline,” Ober said, elaborating on the differences between Pence and Trump.
Another advantage Pence would bring to a Trump administration, if they win the election, is his executive experience as governor and his legislative leadership experience, noted Republican state Sen. Liz Brown, of Fort Wayne. Before he was elected governor in 2012, Pence spent 12 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was chairman of the House Republican Conference for two years.
Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW, agreed that Pence balances the ticket in ways that could help the Trump campaign. Besides Pence’s experience governing, which Trump has never done, the governor has a midwestern politeness that could play well with voters made uneasy by Trump’s bluster.
“Mike Pence is ready to play the role of No. 2,” Downs said. “I don’t say that in a disparaging way,” adding that no presidential candidate wants to be upstaged by his or her vice presidential running mate.
Pence’s being uprooted into a presidential campaign deals a hand or two of wild cards into the gubernatorial race he leaves behind. Most observers expect that it will make little difference in the race, that another Republican will be able to pick up the candidacy and run a strong race. Indiana leans strongly though not inevitably Republican, and its voters have elected huge Republican majorities in the state House and Senate.
Allen County Republican Party Chairman Steve Shine embodied confidence when he reflected on the race. “Mike Pence would have won. The Republican who replaces him will win,” Shine said.
Downs parts with the general assessment. He said he thinks that Pence’s leaving the race for governor helps the Republicans in the race against Democrat John Gregg. “I actually think it’s a positive for the Republicans. It throws a monkey wrench into the Gregg campaign,” he said. “The Gregg campaign has built up a lot of momentum as ‘Not Pence.’”
So all those “Fire Pence” signs will disappear, but whose name will appear on new Republican yard signs? That’s up to the 22 members of the Indiana State Republican Committee; they will choose Pence’s replacement on the ballot. Downs said the committee must provide 10 days’ notice before its members meet to choose a new candidate. That choice must be made within 30 days of Pence withdrawing from the ballot.
The candidates most widely discussed as replacements for Pence include Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb, a former chairman of the Indiana Republican Party; U.S. Reps. Susan Brooks and Todd Rokita; and Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma.