Any speculation that Gov. Mike Pence would pass on a re-election bid following a highly contentious start to 2015 was extinguished Monday. Indiana Republican Party Chairman Jeff Cardwell issued a statement on the party's website saying the 55-year-old governor would formally announce that he'd be seeking re-election in 2016 during the INDGOP's Spring Dinner in June.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) clearly thought about running for president this year. Indeed, it was just last month that the far-right Hoosier traveled to Las Vegas in the hopes of impressing GOP mega-donor and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. There was ample chatter about Pence's national ambitions, and the Republican governor did nothing to downplay the scuttlebutt.
All the while, however, Pence seemed all too aware that he'd have to make a choice soon: the Indiana Republican would have to choose between a White House campaign and a gubernatorial re-election bid. As of last night, the governor appears to have settled on the latter. The Indianapolis Star reported:
Local scuttlebutt suggests Pence has his eyes on the 2020 presidential race, which would likely only be an option if his party loses next year. (As the Star recently put it, "Even Pence's mother has suggested he should wait until 2020 to seek the White House.")
Make no mistake, however, about the circumstances surrounding the governor's ambitions: for much of the spring, Pence seemed likely to run for president, right up until the fiasco surrounding his "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" touched off a national debate over right-to-discriminate proposals. Had the debacle not occurred, today's news might well have been quite different.
As for Pence's re-election chances, Indiana is arguably the Midwest's most reliable red state, but the governor did real damage to his political standing with the discrimination controversy; his approval rating took a sharp turn for the worse; and a variety of Democrats now see him as a vulnerable incumbent -- a posture Democrats did not have until fairly recently.
And what about the state of the Republican presidential field? Just two weeks ago, I put together a fairly comprehensive list of credible GOP contenders and I came up with 22 names. Since then, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton both withdrew from consideration, and now Pence has done the same, shrinking the field to 19.
For those keeping score, my list points to 14 candidates likely to compete for the Republican nomination: Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, John Kasich, Rick Santorum, Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, and Carly Fiorina. From there, we can probably add two former governors -- James Gilmore and George Pataki -- to the mix, which gets us 16. Donald Trump is apparently running, which makes 17. Former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich says he's interested, and Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) has taken some steps of his own, and that gets us to 19.