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10.27.10

Sarah Palin's Newest Rival

Mike Pence may not have Sarah Barracuda’s flash and cash. But the Indiana upstart connects with values voters. Mark McKinnon rates his appeal and how he’d stack up in the GOP presidential field.

Sarah Palin may be the sizzle, but Mike Pence just might be the steak social conservatives will be seeking in a GOP candidate for 2012.

Pence is like grade AAA corn-fed beef: nothing artificial, lots of protein and muscle. You can serve him up at a formal Sunday dinner, or in shirtsleeves at a casual summer bar-b-que. With the heartland hungry for a different kind of change, Pence is the conservative antidote to arugula.

Politico reports the House Republican Conference Chairman from Indiana is considering stepping down from his GOP leadership post to prepare for a possible presidential run in 2012. Though the 2010 mid-term election is just days away, the pressure is already on Pence and other rumored GOP hopefuls to declare their intentions.

Winner of the presidential straw poll at the Values Voter Summit in September, Pence beat out a field that included former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Pence has solid social and fiscal conservative credentials. And he has never been shy about criticizing his own party or admitting his own mistakes.

“Let’s be honest,” Pence says, “three years ago, Republicans in Congress didn't just lose their majority; they lost their way. When I opposed No Child Left Behind, when I opposed the Medicare prescription drug bill, and when I opposed the Wall Street bailout, I knew that if we kept acting like big government liberals, the American people were eventually going to go with the professionals. And they did.

“The truth is our party in Congress walked away from the principles that minted our national governing majority, and the American people walked away from us.”

“Look, there will be no compromise on stopping runaway spending, deficits and debt,” says Pence. “There will be no compromise on repealing Obamacare.”

While presumptive GOP Speaker-to-be John Boehner assured NPR listeners last week that he would find common ground with the Obama administration, Pence declared his independence.

“Look, there will be no compromise on stopping runaway spending, deficits and debt. There will be no compromise on repealing ObamaCare. There will be no compromise on stopping Democrats from growing government and raising taxes," Pence said. "And if I haven’t been clear enough yet, let me say again: No compromise."

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His campaign speeches are sugar for the Tea Party set. He urges his fellow Republicans to tread boldly: “Trust the American people to stand with us when we lead the country back to fiscal responsibility.” And in his recent address on “ The Presidency and the Constitution,” Pence shows a depth of thought, a seriousness of purpose and glimpse of his ability to inspire.

Part of his appeal: Pence says he’s “a conservative, but I’m not in a bad mood about it.”

Despite serving in Washington since 2000, his connection to his small-town roots and life in the real world is strong. He explains the reason:

"Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes. All you really need to know is that I'm the father of three teenagers (hence the white hair), I have been married for 25 years to an elementary school teacher who is the love of my life...”

In an eight-page letter from The Mike Pence Committee this week that talks of a return to founding principles, limited government, and free markets, Pence declares: “The time to go along to get along is over.”

Pence is well-spoken, thanks to a radio show background and to his solid, principled beliefs which make it easy for him to speak. And he knows who he is. While I don’t agree with all of his positions, particularly on social issues, his belief in America is contagious. While conventional wisdom weighs against him—nobody since James Garfield has gone straight from the U.S. House to the Oval Office—these are not conventional times.

His words on the presidency are telling: “Isn't it amazing, given the great and momentous nature of the office, that those who seek it seldom pause to consider what they are seeking?”

Mike Pence is a thoughtful guy who has clearly considered what he is seeking. Look out for a politician with a clear rationale and a lot of beef.

The latest rundown of the top 10 contenders for 2012:

1. Mitt Romney: Conventional favorite

2. Sarah Palin: Unconventional favorite

3. Mitch Daniels: Grownup who can govern

4. John Thune: Central casting

5. Mike Pence: Appeal to values voters

6. Joe Scarborough: Redneck who sells in blue states

7. Haley Barbour: Wily veteran

8. Tim Pawlenty: Reformer looking for a spark

9. Chris Christie: Steel cojones

10. Marco Rubio: Face of the future

As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, corporations and causes, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono.