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Players: Mike Pence

Putting a New Face On Conservatism

Ind. Lawmaker Favors Polite Debate

By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 22, 2005; Page A15

In a former life, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) liked to describe himself as Rush Limbaugh on decaf.

The phrase was verbal shorthand that the future congressman developed to explain his regional Indiana radio talk show, in which he delivered conservative political opinions with the even tones and polite demeanor of his Midwest upbringing.

Rep. Mike Pence is head of the Republican Study Committee, a group of Congress's most conservative lawmakers. (Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

In Profile

Mike Pence

Title: Representative, Republican from Indiana.

Education: Bachelor's degree in history, Hanover College;

law degree, Indiana University.

Age: 45.

Family: Married; three children.

Career highlights: Chairman, House Republican Study Committee; radio talk show host, "The Mike Pence Show"; president, Indiana Policy Review Foundation; practicing attorney.


Horseback riding, reading.

Book currently reading: "Washington's Crossing" by David Hackett Fischer.

Favorite movie:

"The Wizard of Oz."

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"I occasionally got called the Rush Limbaugh of Indiana, but most people knew that my style was different," Pence said in an interview at his Capitol Hill office. "I'd tell people, 'I'm a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.' And my Christianity, first and foremost, governed the way that I tried to deal with people."

These days Pence, 45, elected to his third term last fall, is leading the charge for conservative principles on Capitol Hill instead of merely talking about them on the air. The beginning of the 109th Congress in January marked the start of Pence's tenure as head of the Republican Study Committee, a group of more than 100 of Congress's most conservative lawmakers. According to the group's Web site, members are dedicated to limiting the power of the federal government, building national defense, protecting private property rights and preserving "traditional family values."

It is a good time to be a Republican in Washington. The GOP controls both houses of Congress, and President Bush, the party's standard-bearer, has just begun his second term in the White House. Conservative Republicans, in the past relegated to the background while their party tacked toward the political center in national elections, see their best opportunity in years to put their public policy priorities into practice -- and law.

But even life at the top has its pitfalls.

Political analysts will be watching closely in this Congress to see whether Republicans, having vanquished Democrats at the ballot box, can maintain party unity and remain loyal to the president despite serious differences among the White House, GOP conservatives and moderates on some matters. Issues to watch include the fate of proposed new tax cuts; the president's desire to ease restrictions on undocumented immigrants; and conservative concerns about a rising deficit that they fear is increasingly making the GOP's oft-stated belief in limited government look out of date.

Also, Pence and the GOP must bear the weight of heavy expectations among conservatives nationally who, after years of fighting in the political trenches, now expect the Republicans to convert much of their agenda into law.

Pence said he and his colleagues will fight to enact more tax cuts, pass spending curbs on entitlement programs such as Medicaid, impose new restrictions on abortion, get more conservative judges on the federal bench and increase the role of religion in public life.

"The fundamental goal of the 109th Congress should be to reassert the ideals of limited government and fiscal discipline that the American people elect Republican Congresses to do," Pence said.

Many in the conservative movement say the youthful-looking, silver-haired evangelical Christian from Columbus, Ind., is the right politician to carry their message.

Pence, whose wife and three children live with him in Arlington when Congress is in session, has a calm, resonant voice and a manner that suggests he would rather talk about his ideas over lunch with you than bellow them to a crowd from a soapbox. After losing congressional races in 1988 and 1990, Pence penned an essay titled "Confessions of a Negative Campaigner," in which he apologized for attacking his opponent in ads rather than explaining his own agenda better.

His conservative colleagues unanimously elected him last year to lead the Study Committee, which could play a pivotal legislative role in a closely divided House that has 232 Republicans, 202 Democrats and one independent.

"Mike is charismatic. He's articulate, but he's not shrill or mean the way some conservatives can be," said Stephen Moore, former president of the Club for Growth, a conservative political action committee. "I think a lot of us are looking around and saying, 'Who is the next great conservative hero? Where is the next Ronald Reagan in our party?' . . . The Study Committee has close to 100 members now. That's a high water mark. So it means that all legislation that passes Congress is going to have go through Mike Pence."

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