WASHINGTON — A group of conservatives on Monday urged Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana to run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, setting up an independent committee aimed at marshaling money and support on his behalf.
If it's successful at pushing Pence into the race — he says he'll decide by the end of January — the group hopes that it can help offset the financial advantage that better-known rivals enjoy, such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney or former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Romney has a deep roster of potential contributors from his days in investment banking and in Boston. Palin would enter the campaign with an enormous edge in fame, a large Internet-based list of fans through her Facebook page and the platform of Fox News. Neither Romney nor Palin has declared whether they intend to run.
Pence, 51, isn't widely known and would have a small fund-raising base in Indiana. A former radio talk-show host who says he was first inspired by Rush Limbaugh, Pence has been elected to the House of Representatives five times from an Indiana district where the largest city is Muncie.
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In the House he led a conservative charge against President George W. Bush's move to expand Medicare to cover prescription drugs, complained about rising budget deficits under Republican rule and unsuccessfully challenged John Boehner of Ohio for leadership of House Republicans after the party lost control of the chamber in 2006.
He won the chairmanship of the House Republican Conference two years later, the third spot in the party's leadership, but he stepped down at the start of this Congress as he wrestled over whether to run for president or governor of Indiana.
The group that formed to support him, called America's President Committee and led by former Republican Rep. Jim Ryun of Kansas and former Reagan administration lawyer Ralph Benko, said it was rallying behind Pence because he was the only potential candidate with a consistently conservative record.
"Mike Pence has demonstrated the ability to enthusiastically advance the cause of conservatives and constitutional, limited government, and for that reason I am encouraging him to get in the race," Ryun said.
"One, he actually has a track record of speaking truth to power, standing up to his own party's leadership on the things that have tarnished the Republican brand, such as the vast expansion of entitlement benefits and the TARP," Benko said in an interview, speaking of the bank bailout known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
"Two, he is absolutely, unflinchingly conservative. He does not trim his message to his audience. He talks about all three aspects of the Reagan recipe: social values, economic conservatism and national security.
"Three, he is the only person who is actually is trying to refresh the Reagan-Kemp growth narrative ... cutting tax rates, free trade, lighter regulation."
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