ABC News’ Michael Falcone reports:
UPDATED: Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., announced in a letter to supporters on Thursday that he will not run for president in 2012, saying that his "calling is closer to home."
Pence had set a deadline of the end of the month to make a decision about his political future. His letter on Thursday suggests that he is leaning strongly toward running for governor of Indiana instead.
“In the choice between seeking national office and serving Indiana in some capacity, we choose Indiana,” Pence said in the letter written on behalf of himself and his family. “We will not seek the Republican nomination for president in 2012.”
Pence said he would “be traveling across the state to listen and learn about how Hoosiers think we might best contribute in the years ahead.” He added that he would "make a decision later this year about what role we will seek to play."
Several high-profile conservative leaders had been encouraging Pence to seek the GOP presidential nomination, arguing that he would be a candidate who could unite disparate elements of the Republican Party.
“Seize this moment, Mike,” former Kansas Congressman Jim Ryun and conservative leaders L. Brent Bozell, Dick Armey and Morton Blackwell, wrote in a letter to Pence earlier this month. "Now is the time for you, as one of this generation's leaders, to take your rightful place in the pantheon of American leadership.”
Some of the same conservative activists were behind an independent expenditure group, the America's President Committee, which sprang up this month to gather signatures to encourage Pence to run.
"We have been especially humbled by the confidence and support of those who believe we should pursue the presidency," Pence said in his letter, but added: “While we may have been able to seek the presidency, we believe our best opportunity to continue to serve the conservative values that brought us to public life is right here in Indiana.”
Pence's appeal among conservatives became even clearer in September when he won a straw poll at the Family Research Council's annual Values Voter Summit, a gathering of social conservatives.
Pence, the former chair of the House Republican Conference, received 24 percent of the vote in poll — two points ahead of Huckabee and 11 points ahead of Romney. In fact, Pence was so popular among those who took the straw poll that he also topped the list of potential GOP vice presidential candidates.
Had he opted for a presidential bid, Pence would have faced significant challenges both in terms of fundraising and building his national name recognition.
In a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, Pence landed fairly low on the list of potential 2012 GOP presidential candidates favored by Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. Just 2 percent of them said he was their choice.
By comparison, 21 percent favored Mike Huckabee, 19 percent backed Sarah Palin and 17 percent preferred Mitt Romney — an indication of the uphill climb Pence may face even among the Republican primary electorate.
But in an interview with Fox News on Thursday, Armey expressed wholehearted support of Pence, saying he could be a modern-day Ronald Reagan.
“I had always thought I'd only get one Ronald Reagan in my lifetime," Armey said. "Maybe Mike Pence could be that second one."
If Pence, 51, decides to run for governor, Indiana Republican National Committeeman Jim Bopp said he would be the "prohibitive favorite both in the primary and the general."
"Being a governor may be a better route to presidency than being a member of the House," Bopp said in an interview with ABC News. "He’s young, he's got plenty of opportunities in the future to do that."
Bopp said he counseled Pence against running for president. But, he noted that the Indiana congressman is "not precluding running for president by being governor – he may be taking a more direct route ultimately."
"In every major decision in my life, I have learned to follow my heart, and my heart is in Indiana," Pence noted in the letter. "Karen and I love this state: the highways and byways, the small towns and courthouse squares, the big cities and corn fields. We love the strong and good people of this state and feel a debt of gratitude to those who have sustained our work with their steadfast support and prayers."
FLASHBACK: Pence discusses a potential presidential bid on ABC's "This Week" and "Top Line":