On Wednesday afternoon, before the president’s speech on the Islamic State, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) spoke at a gathering of the Radio Advertising Bureau and the National Association of Broadcasters in Indianapolis. It was, interestingly, heavy on foreign policy.

He began by listing his accomplishments, welcoming the attendees “to a state that works, where we live within our means. We have a surplus, not deficits, and a AAA bond rating. We’ve invested in roads and schools, and let people keep more of what they earn. In case you are taking notes, Indiana will have the second lowest corporate tax rate in America in just a few years.” And he reminded them that this isn’t his first job:

You see, I’ve served in public office for 14 years: A year and a half as Governor and 12 years in Congress . . . I hosted a talk radio show in the early days of that format. I liked to say, “I’m a conservative, but I’m not [in] a bad mood about it.” I was kind of like Rush Limbaugh on decaf.

Well, it’s not quite a bumper sticker slogan, but Pence clearly has marshaled an argument for a potential candidacy — the experienced and sunnier Republican.

He quickly pivoted to national security. Appropriate for a governor and for anyone who had not yet heard from the president, he was positive, but the underlying frustration with President Obama was evident: “I do applaud the president for engaging with our allies in an effort to defeat ISIS and look forward to him articulating his plans in more detail tonight.” In other words, he doesn’t think Obama has gotten his act together up until now, but Pence is keeping fingers crossed that he finally does. And then Pence clearly allied himself with the more hawkish elements in the GOP:

Too much has been given and too much has been sacrificed for us to continue to shrink from our responsibilities abroad. This cannot be one more speech followed by hesitation and indecision. The Old Book says “If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will know to get ready for battle?” We need a strong and clear American response which will only happen if a strong and capable media informs our public and holds our leaders accountable.

It is far from clear that Pence is getting ready to run for president, but he has recognized how central foreign policy now is to the political debate. In Congress, he was known as a pro-defense, pro-Israel congressman. And now he finds that the party has returned to its historically tough stance on national secuirty. So if he is interested in running in 2016, what should he do?

He will need to keep the conversation going and perhaps carry the flag for a critical topic: defense spending. Obama seems to want the military to do more, but not reexamine the threats we face and assess our budget priorities accordingly. Challenging the green-eyeshade set in Congress to prioritize defense spending is a worthy endeavor and will implicitly raise the question as to what the Republicans now seeking the presidency have been doing to the Pentagon budget.

Pence, if he wants to build up buzz and get the donors thinking about him, will have to do more travel (overseas and to early primary states), do more-frequent media appearances, deliver some big speeches and write serious op-eds. Having been in Congress and been interested in foreign policy for decades, he has an advantage over governors now pleading that national security hasn’t been part of their job description (not comforting, I know).

Pence has a solid reputation both with fiscal and social conservatives. However, if he wants to make a leap to the presidential stage, he will need to show he can excite a crowd and put forth a national agenda. If that is where he is heading, he got off to a good start yesterday.