The Battle for the U.S. Senate: Will Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) Be The Man in the Arena?

Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), the Chairman of the House Republican Conference, now has to make the most difficult decision of his political career. Should he give up his safe Congressional seat and the number three position in the GOP leadership to challenge Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN)? Pence appears to have an bright future in the House of Representatives, but it is always difficult to turn down the glamour of the United States Senate. For example, Trent Lott (R-MS) was in line to be Speaker of the House, but left his number two position as the GOP Whip to successfully run for the Senate in 1988.
Bayh is a former two term Governor who is now completing his second term in the Senate. His father Birch Bayh (D-IN) served in the Senate from 1962 until he was defeated by Dan Quayle in 1980. Evan Bayh has won five statewide elections while Pence has never been tested at the state level.
Pence, 50, is understandably reluctant to give up a secure GOP Congressional seat. He was defeated by an incumbent in both 1988 and 1990 before finally winning an open seat in 2000. The Congressman would instantly achieve national fame if he knocked off Bayh, but a loss would mean this rising star would go back to obscurity of Columbus, Indiana. If he does run his campaign theme would almost certainly be “No More Bailouts,” which is a position he adopted during the Bush Administration.
Yesterday Pence attended a meeting at the National Republican Senatorial Committee where he was presented with the most recent polling data. The Congressman trails Senators Bayh by only a few percentage points, but all of the popular issues are on the side of the Republican. Bayh has always portrayed himself as a moderate, and is a former Chairman of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). He still points with pride to the $1.6 billion tax cut he implemented as Governor.
The problem is that he has been on Capitol Hill for 12 years and now it is difficult to run away from his voting record. His recent votes on the health-care legislation and the stimulus are particularly unpopular, and Bayh has been urging his party to move to the center.
A new book reveals that Barack Obama almost named Bayh as his 2008 running mate. Bayh still has a 50% approval rating, but between May and January his ratings dropped by nearly 25 points. The Senator’s biggest advantage is that he has $12.7 million in cash-on-hand, while Pence has just $463,000. President Obama won Indiana by 1%, and the state has voted Republican in 10 of the last 11 presidential elections.
Pence has to soon make a decision because the filing deadline is February 18th. He has already emerged as a champion for conservatives on a national scale. The Congressman previously served as Chairman of the conservative House Republican Study Committee. In 2003, when the House debated the Medicare prescription drug entitlement, Pence led a gang of House conservatives who valiantly opposed it. He said Republicans had lost their way by promoting big spending initiatives.
One of his best assets is that he is a former radio broadcaster and an excellent communicator. He is able to make persuasive and effective arguments. If Pence runs this will instantly become one of the top Senate races of the 2010 election cycle, and Pence would receive considerable fame if he emerges as the Democratic dragon slayer in Indiana.

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