A Profile of Indiana Congressman Mike Pence

Indiana Congressman Mike Pence in December 2010. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Conservative Credentials:

Michael Richard "Mike" Pence is a conservative's conservative. Influenced by American political theorist Russell Kirk and Irish philosopher and statesman Edmund Burke, Pence cannot be pigeonholed into any one particular conservative ideology, Pence is part paleocon, part neocon, part cultural conservative and part social conservative. As a House Republican, Pence consistently stands up for conservative principles and allows the Constitution to act his legislative guide.

A Tea Party favorite, Pence was actively recruited by conservatives to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

Early Life:

Pence was born on June 7, 1959, one of six children of Irish Catholic Democrats. He grew up admiring President John F. Kennedy and even kept a memory box of JFK memorabilia as a youngster. Pence takes his middle name from his grandfather Richard Michael Cawley, a Chicago bus driver who emigrated to Ellis Island between 1917 and 1923 from Tubbercurry, Ireland. Pence graduated from Columbus North High School in 1977, received a BA in history from Hanover College in 1981 and earned a law degree from Indiana University in 1986. His father served in Korea and later was an oil distributor who ran a number of gas stations.

Early Career:

Pence emerged from Hanover College as a fundamentalist conservative Christian Republican with a desire to serve in politics. In 1988, Pence was just two years out of law school when he ran for U.S. Congress and lost.

Two years later, he ran unsuccessfully again. This second experience, he recalled, was "one of the most divisive and negative campaigns in Indiana's modern Congressional history." Soon after that campaign, in 1991, Pence had an article, "Confessions of a Negative Campaigner," published in the Indiana Policy Review.

Here, he outlined three principals for every campaign: decency, issues and victory.

Rise to Prominence:

Before running for Congress, Pence worked as a lawyer. Following his unsuccessful Congressional bids and his subsequent article, Pence served as president of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. In 1992, he began broadcasting "The Mike Pence Show" from WRCR-FM in Rushville, Ind. In 1994, the conservative talk radio program was syndicated state-wide, airing weekdays on 18 radio stations.n Indianapolis, from 1995 to 1999, Pence also hosted a Sunday morning political TV program. When the Republican representing the Sixth Congressional District announced his retirement in 2000, Pence ran for the seat a third time.

2000 Congressional Election Campaign:

The primary campaign for the seat was a six-way contest pitting Pence against several political veterans, including state Rep. Jeff Linder. Pence emerged victorious and expected to face Democrat primary winner Robert Rock. The campaign was already expected to be difficult for Pence, considering Rock was the son of a former Indiana Lieutenant Governor, but when former Republican state Sen. Bill Frazier entered the race as a populist independent, many considered Pence a long-shot.

After a brutal campaign, however, Pence wound up victorious with 51 percent of the vote.

Early Congressional Career:

Pence began his new career as one of the most outspoken conservatives in the House. He refused to support a Republican-backed bankruptcy bill because it had an abortion measure in it with which he disagreed. He also joined a Senate Republican lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the newly enacted McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law. He was one of just 33 House members to vote against President George W. Bush's "No Child Left Behind Act." In 2002, he cast a vote for a costly farm subsidy bill, for which he would later express regret. Pence won his subsequent reelection bids handily.

Rise to Congressional Leadership:

Pence's soft-spoken demeanor masked an outspoken conservative personality on Capitol Hill.

His fearless votes and strict adherence to his conservative principles endeared him to leadership, but his unwillingness to reach across the aisle in compromise made him a formidable opponent of the Left. In 2005, Pence was elected to chair the Republican Study Committee and worked to recast the Republicans' conservative image. His background in radio and TV earned him numerous interview requests, which, in turn, forced Republican leaders to acknowledge his growing influence.


Later that year, Katrina Struck the Louisiana coast and Republicans were being cast by liberals as insensitive and unwilling to assist with the cleanup. In the midst of the catastrophe, Pence called a press conference announcing $24 billion in spending cuts, saying "... [W]e must not let Katrina break the bank." In 2006, Pence stirred controversy when he teamed with Democrats to break a deadlock on immigration. His bill ultimately foundered, and he was castigated by conservatives just a year after Human Events had named him "Man of the Year." Pence rebounded, however, and ran for Republican Leader.

Campaign for Minority Leader:

Shortly after Republicans took a significant beating in the 2006 election, Pence observed, "We didn't just lose our majority. I believe we lost our way." With that, Pence threw his hat into the ring for Republican Leader a post that had been held for less than a year by Ohio Congressman John Boehner. The debate centered around the failures of the Republican leadership leading up to the general election. Boehner, however, successfully distanced himself from the pitfalls of the previous GOP leaders and committed himself to a more conservative future. Pence was beaten soundly, 27 to 168.

Political Prospects:

Under Democratic House Leadership, Pence emerged as a major voice for the Republican Party and in 2008, he was elected to be the House Republican Conference Chairman, the third-highest ranking position in House party leadership. Between 2006 and 2010, Pence also emerged as one of the rising starts of the GOP.

After Republicans regained control of the House in 2010, Pence declined to run for Republican Leader, throwing his support instead to Boehner. He also stepped down as chair of the Republican Conference, leading many to suspect he would challenge Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh or run for governor of the state. In early 2011, a strong movement got underway to draft Pence for president in 2012. The movement was led by former Kansas Rep. Jim Ryun. Pence remained non-committal, but said he would make a decision by the end of January 2011.

Personal Life
Pence and his wife, Karen, were married on June 8, 1985. They have three children, Michael, Charlotte and Audrey and live in Columbus, Ind. Pence met his wife at an evangelical church service. She was playing guitar and he told her he wanted to join the group. Nine months later, the couple were engaged.