Draft Mike Pence Movement Gaining Steam Among Conservatives

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Less than two weeks before Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., is expected to make an announcement about his political future, conservative leaders are urging him to jump into the 2012 presidential race.

Within the last week, at least two draft Mike Pence groups have sprung up, including an effort spearheaded by former Rep. Jim Ryun, R-Kan., and former Reagan administration official Ralph Benko.

"Seize this moment, Mike," Ryun, along with conservative leaders L. Brent Bozell, Dick Armey and Morton Blackwell, wrote in a letter they sent to Pence on Thursday. "Now is the time for you, as one of this generation's leaders, to take your rightful place in the pantheon of American leadership, to cast aside personal considerations, and defend this God-blessed nation that has given us, and the world, so much."

Pence has said he is considering whether or not to pursue a presidential run and that he plans to make a decision by the end of January. But political observers in Washington and in Pence's home state have speculated that he could end up skipping the presidential contest and run for governor of Indiana instead.

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.

The political forces behind the push to influence Pence's decision represent a who's who of the conservative movement. Bozell is president of the Media Research Center, a right-leaning media watchdog group. Armey, a former Texas congressman, is now chairman of the Tea Party-affiliated group, FreedomWorks. And Blackwell is a long-time Republican activist and serves as a Republican national committeeman from Virginia.

In their letter, they praised Pence's decade of service in the U.S. House of Representatives, calling him a leader who has "stood firm on principle, no matter the pressure to compromise, and has demonstrated true commitment to comprehensive conservatism."

"We believe that you, Mike Pence, must answer your country's call," they wrote.

The letter sought to bolster an effort launched earlier this week by a new independent expenditure group, the America's President Committee, which is gathering signatures to encourage Pence to enter the Republican presidential primary. On Monday, the group unveiled a website, theconservativechampion.org.

"Mike Pence extraordinarily exemplifies the optimistic, pro-growth, pro-job creation Reagan-Kemp wing of the GOP," Benko said in a statement, noting that the Indiana congressman is exactly what "grassroots conservatives, Republicans, the Tea Party and populists are looking for."

If Pence decides to enter the race before the end of the month, he would almost certainly become the first well-known candidate to do so. Many other potential 2012 contenders, including Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee, have indicated they plan to wait until the spring -- or even later -- to announce presidential bids.

"I certainly know where I'm leaning, but I haven't made any decision," Pence told reporters in Indiana on Monday -- the same day he delivered speeches to both chambers of the Indiana state legislature.

"I've heard as many people encourage us to consider coming home to Indiana as I have people who pulled me alongside and said, 'Keep the national campaign in mind,'" he said, according to the Indianapolis Star newspaper.

A presidential run could prove awkward for Pence, who might end up competing in a Republican primary against his state's current governor, Mitch Daniels, who also is said to be contemplating a 2012 bid. Pence and Daniels both received 2 percent support among Republicans in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll.

Running to succeed Daniels could be the more straightforward play for Pence. The state's lieutenant governor, who was thought to be a leading contender for the job, recently said she would not run.

Pence's appeal among conservatives was crystallized 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 percentage points ahead of Huckabee and eleven 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.

In addition to the national efforts to "Draft Pence," at least one state-based group is getting into the action.

In South Carolina, a group of 11 state legislators held a press conference outside the state capitol in Columbia, S.C., on Wednesday encouraging Pence to seek the Republican nomination.

"America is facing a serious crisis and we need a serious president," said South Carolina state Rep. Kris Crawford, who helped organize the event. "In order to turn our country around, we are going to have to nominate someone who has not only the conservative principles to know what needs to be done, but also the knowledge, experience and, most importantly, the courage to actually do it. We cannot afford to nominate a weak, moderate candidate as we have in the past."

The group also has started a Facebook page and a Twitter feed to support their efforts.

Pence's advisers declined to comment on the draft campaigns, saying only that Pence has yet to make up his mind about his next move and was weighing both political and family considerations.