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Posted at 09:49 PM ET, 05/27/2011

Pence: 2012 GOP presidential field will grow

(AJ Mast - AP)
Add Mike Pence of Indiana to the list of House Republicans who think the GOP’s 2012 presidential field is far from settled.

Pence took himself out of the running in January, and earlier this month he announced a bid to succeed term-limited Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R). He said Thursday that he believes the field of presidential contenders is just beginning to take shape.

“Well, I was disappointed that Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels decided to forego a run for the presidency in 2012,” Pence said when asked about the current 2012 field. “But I remain confident that the candidates who are in the field -- and those that may enter the field -- will produce the kind of alternative to this administration that will appeal broadly to the American public.”

(Worth noting: Pence has repeatedly called Daniels “the best governor in America,” but the two have had their policy differences. The six-term congressman and leader of the congressional charge to defund Planned Parenthood has argued against the idea of a “truce” on social issues, something Daniels has advocated.)

“For my part,” Pence added, “I’m looking for a strong, unapologetic conservative.”

Is that person already in the race?

“Well, they may be, they may be,” Pence said. “But I suspect that the field will get larger. I’m looking for a leader at the top of our ticket who will advocate the broad, mainstream conservative agenda without apology.”

The remarks from Pence, who is considered a leader among social conservatives, follow similar comments from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

“Our field is a field that still has a lot of time,” Cantor told reporters at his weekly roundtable earlier this week. “I think the candidates who are in the race are strong candidates. It is early still. These campaigns will begin to focus as the primary season nears.”

The theme they both expressed is a sign that some congressional Republicans may not be satisfied with the current state of the GOP presidential field, which has been marked more by the number of high-profile candidates declining to run than by the number pursuing a bid.

In addition to Pence and Daniels, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Sen. John Thune (S.D.) and businessman Donald Trump are among the big-name Republicans who have turned down a 2012 White House run.

That leaves former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) as the main contenders for the GOP nomination. Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) is inching toward a bid, and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s plans are unknown. Other potential candidates are still eyeing bids.

Several candidates, including Pawlenty, Romney and Huntsman, have been making the Capitol Hill rounds to drum up support. Gingrich was on the Hill the morning of his campaign announcement earlier this month. He did not meet with House Republican leaders, but he has been reaching out to lawmakers, delivering an address to the Congressional Health Care Caucus in March.

Still, Gingrich made a serious faux pas when he criticized Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) 2012 budget blueprint – which all but four House Republicans voted for in April.

With some top House Republicans indicating that they’d like more choices, will Palin’s upcoming multistate bus tour and Bachmann’s formal announcement of her plans in June be the answers? Or will they only spark further discussion about the GOP’s chances at the White House in 2012?

As always, your thoughts and questions are welcome in the comments section below.

By  |  09:49 PM ET, 05/27/2011

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