The Week in Politics: What a Pence-Trump Ticket Would Mean and a Rare Example of Moderates

The most important election news and political dynamics at the state and local levels.
by | July 8, 2016
Minnesota state House candidates Barb Haley, left, and Lisa Bayley, right (David Kidd)

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What a Pence-Trump Ticket Would Mean

Donald Trump is expected to announce his running mate next week. Despite hints that he'll pick Newt Gingrich, at least two sitting GOP governors are also on his shortlist: New Jersey's Chris Christie -- who has gone all in with Trump as an early endorser and frequent surrogate -- and Indiana's Mike Pence, who has drawn more attention of late.

Pence and Trump met last weekend. Pence would bring some obvious strengths to the ticket, as a prominent social conservative who's spent time navigating the Washington waters as a member of Congress. The industrial Midwest also just happens to offer Trump his best opportunity for upending the Electoral College map.

But Pence isn't especially popular at home. He has an approval rating in the low 40s, partly because of his poor handling of a gay rights controversy last year, and faces a tough re-election challenge this fall against Democrat John Gregg, a former state House speaker.

Gregg and other critics have been using Pence's apparent attempts to climb aboard the Trump train, saying it shows he puts his own career ahead of Indiana's needs.

"His flirtation with the developer-turned-reality TV star-turned-politician is just the latest in a long series of actions that have made clear Pence's inability or unwillingness to focus on and adjust to the role of governor," wrote columnist Matthew Tully in the Indianapolis Star.

Pence of course has sought to play all this down, saying he's still focused on the job of making Indiana stronger. But maybe his time in the national spotlight won't hurt him. Indiana voters are used to their prominent politicians being considered as running mates and kind of like the idea, said Ed Feigenbaum, editor of Indiana Legislative Insight, a political newsletter. Indiana GOP Sen. Dan Quayle was elected vice president in 1988, and Evan Bayh, a Democratic former governor and senator was looked at by both John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008.

"There's a little bit of state pride in having a candidate be considered for vice president -- regardless of whether it's a Democrat or Republican," said Feigenbaum.

Trump is set to visit Indianapolis on Tuesday. It's futile trying to predict whether he'll actually pick Pence. If he does, he might be doing Indiana Republicans a favor. Pence is struggling in polls against Gregg, but a replacement pick would be favored in the generally Republican state. The list of potential replacement candidates already being mentioned (or mentioning themselves) includes Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb, U.S. Reps. Susan Brooks and Todd Rokita, and state House Speaker Brian Bosma.

If Pence joins the national ticket, there would be an awful lot of jockeying to be picked as his replacement by the state GOP committee. After all, the person selected would almost certainly become governor.

Conversely, if Trump doesn't pick Pence, it might not be the governor's only political disappointment this year.

A Rare Example of Moderate Politicians, a Dying Breed

Swing districts are supposed to produce moderate politicians. When you know you have to appeal to voters from the other party in order to win, you tend to soften your message.

Well, some of the time anyway.

Touring swing districts in Minnesota recently, I was struck by how the candidates on either side took starkly different positions on issues such as guns, taxes and immigration. They were mainly appealing to their bases, hoping to convince a few voters in the middle that their opponents are too extreme.

By now, that's the more familiar strategy. But there are still candidates who try to appeal to the middle. Two of them are running against one another in the state House district based in Red Wing.

Barb Haley, the Republican, can sound almost like a Democrat as she talks about the importance of education and affordable health care. She stresses her independence, as does Lisa Bayley, her Democratic opponent, who focuses on similar issues. 

Bayley has tried to reach out to voters who normally don't hear from Democrats. She said she's already warned House leaders that she won't be a certain vote on all the issues promoted by the party's largely urban caucus.

"They know it's tough for us in the outstate," she said.

President Obama carried the district in 2012, but it's been represented since 2008 by Republican Tim Kelly. He chairs the state House Transportation Committee, and both Haley and Bayley go out of their way to praise his work trying to push a transportation package that fell apart at the end of this year's session.

Whether due to calculation or personal conviction, neither strays too far into angry partisan turf. They do try to differentiate themselves, of course. Haley highlights her business experience, while Bayley talks about her work putting away bad guys as a prosecutor. But each is aware that their district is split right down the middle.

And both are certainly aware that, at the presidential level, district voters are deeply unhappy with their choices.

"There's frustration with national politics in both parties," says Haley. "It's interesting the number of people that say, 'I want to vote for none of the above.'"