INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana's Republican Gov. Mike Pence is stoking talk of a White House bid in 2016, with increasing trips out of state and the high-profile rollout of a health insurance plan he is calling an alternative to Medicaid.
Pence has been saying for months that he is "listening" to national conservatives interested in seeing him make a presidential bid. Meanwhile, he has been out meeting with influential Republicans and conservatives.
He opened the week mingling with potential donors in New York City, speaking at "The New York Meeting," a monthly gathering of conservative-thought leaders organized by Mallory Factor. Factor, an independent banker and political pundit, built his name in the last decade connecting Republicans with high-dollar donors.
And the governor will be in Washington at the start of next week, pitching his proposal to expand health insurance coverage for low-income Indiana residents at the American Enterprise Institute, an influential conservative think tank.
But he has been demur about his ambitions. When asked at Factor's New York talk if he would run for the White House, Pence ducked the question — as he has many times in the past few years. "Any time I'm mentioned or talked to about the highest office in the land is deeply humbling, deeply humbling to me and my family, but my focus is Indiana," he said.
The governor's work for Indiana occasionally raises national and even international questions. Earlier this month, Pence used an economic trade mission to Germany to take an odd step for a sitting governor and criticized President Barack Obama's handling of the situation in Ukraine. He also called for the resumed construction of a European missile defense shield. His staff explained his interest in foreign policy by citing his extensive service on the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs while serving in Congress.
The fundraising activity comes amid a flurry of Republican Party appearances for Pence. He headlined the Wisconsin Republican Party's annual convention earlier this month and is scheduled to speak at the Alabama Republican Party's convention next month.
Decisions are still a long way off for any would-be contender. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continues to dominate a speculative field for Democrats, while the Republican field is well-populated with possibilities, from establishment favorites including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to tea party fighters like U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
That means Pence would enter the race amid a long list of viable Republicans, but he could find a way to victory if the field stayed wide open and clear of a front-runner, said Darrell West, vice president and director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank.
"He's testing the waters," West said. "He would be on a long short-list. He's not at the very top of the list, but the top of the list doesn't look so strong at this point." If he decided to enter the race, Pence would come in with a strong fundraising network built from his time in Washington and Republican moneymen in Indiana who helped try to entice former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels to run in 2012. Pence's name was thrown in the mix for the 2012 race as well, but he opted against a run at that point, as many observers pointed out his strong legislative resume, but lack of executive experience.