INDIANAPOLIS - As speculation swirls around Gov. Mike Pence’s chances of becoming Donald Trump’s running mate, the man who managed Trump’s successful primary campaign in Indiana is ready to place his bets.
“I’m 100 percent for Mike getting job, and I think it’s an 80 percent chance that he’s going to get the job,” said veteran political strategist Rex Early.
Early offers the caveat that he’s had no contact with the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Nor has he talked to anyone on the Trump campaign, for that matter, about his choice of a running mate.
“It’s pure speculation on my part,” he said. “I don’t know anything.”
But he’s happy to feed the din of speculation now that the Indiana governor and six-term congressman is mentioned on the VP short-list, having met with Trump over the weekend at a golf course in New Jersey.
On Wednesday, chatter about Pence’s chances got even louder when two other widely presumed choices, Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, took themselves out the running after meetings with Trump earlier in the week.
As of late Wednesday, the likely list appeared to be winnowed to two high-profile, hard-charging politicians - former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who endorsed Trump after dropping his own bid for the White House earlier this year.
Ernst told Politico that she advised Trump to pick Pence: “He is so well rounded, served as a governor, and I think he’s a great conservative. So I don’t think he could go wrong,” she was quoted as saying.
Early, a former chairman of Indiana’s Republican Party, agrees with her assessment, though for another reason. Pence’s appeal is in his relatively small political stature and lack of star power, he said. Early likened it to President George H.W. Bush’s pick of the largely unknown junior senator from Indiana, Dan Quayle, as his running mate in 1988. “You don’t take somebody who will outshine you,” he said.
Craig Ladwig, director of Indiana Policy Review, a conservative think tank where Pence worked before going to Congress, sides with Early on that estimation.
He called Pence a “natural politician” who loves to campaign and also knows how not to make too many waves. But Ladwig said he’s not sure that Pence’s traditional conservatism adds much to the ticket, given the clamor among Trump supporters for radical change. “He’s a wonderful fellow,” he said. “But there’s not much demand for wonderful fellows.”
Political pundits hail Pence as a reasonable pick because of his traditional conservatism and popularity among evangelical Christians – characteristics that could neutralize some of Trump’s perceived negatives.
But Ron Johnson, head of the evangelical Pastors Alliance of Indiana and a longtime Pence ally, said he isn’t so sure that Trump would be influenced by Pence’s point of view. “We’re grabbing for straws here,” he said. “We’re looking for some glimmer of hope. I’m not sure having Mike Pence as your running mate is the straw that will work.”
Pence, meanwhile, is allowing rumors to flourish - by saying little about them. On Tuesday, while campaigning for re-election as governor at a county fair, he told reporters that he is “ready, willing and able to help Donald Trump anywhere he asks us to help him.”
Typically presidential candidates keep details of their vice presidential searches under wraps. But just as the Trump campaign has defied conventional wisdom and tradition, it’s hard to read the political tea leaves.
Trump is scheduled to visit Indianapolis on July 12 for a fund-raiser at the private Columbia Club, a bastion of traditional Republicanism.
Early said he believes Trump might announce Pence as his vice-presidential pick then, affirming a tweet that Trump sent over the weekend, having met the governor and his wife, Karen: “Very impressed, great people!”
Corker, having met with Trump, told reporters that the candidate will make his pick before July 15.
That’s also the final day for Pence to withdraw from the Indiana gubernatorial race, allowing the Indiana Republican Party to select a replacement to face Democratic challenger John Gregg in November.
However, Trump has also downplayed a deal with any potential vice presidential pick, telling Fox News: “I’m actually looking at about 10 people - some names that haven’t surfaced yet.”