INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Rep. Mike Pence ended months of speculation Thursday when he announced he will run for Indiana governor in 2012, a move that quickly positioned him as a favorite to succeed Gov. Mitch Daniels.
Mr. Pence, a conservative Republican and tea party favorite, told supporters on a conference call from Washington that he plans to seek the governorship because he feels he can lead the state as it's on the verge of an era of growth, thanks in part to Mr. Daniels' leadership.
"The work isn't over," Mr. Pence told supporters. "To keep Indiana growing, Hoosiers know we must have principled leadership at every level to make the right choices."
Mr. Pence's announcement was widely expected after he resigned his No. 3 GOP House leadership position in November and ruled out a White House run in January. He has spent the months since making stops around the state to meet with constituents and speak at political dinners. His campaign sent a blank email Wednesday that included a "Mike for Indiana" logo.
Mr. Pence described his decision to run as the "worst kept-secret in politics." He had hoped to announce his intentions in Indiana on Monday, but he delayed the call because of the death of Osama bin Laden. Mr. Pence said he planned a formal campaign kickoff June 11 in Columbus.
Democrats quickly pounced on the fact that Mr. Pence was in Washington for the phone call.
"Congressman Mike Pence loves Washington so much so that he made his campaign announcement from there instead of heading back to the heartland and standing with the Hoosiers he wants to represent," Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker said in a statement released moments after Mr. Pence announced his candidacy. "It's fair to say there aren't many Republicans in Washington who are prouder partisans than Congressman Mike Pence, and that's the kind of attitude that makes it impossible to get things done."
Mr. Pence — who often describes himself as "a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order" — has the backing of many tea party voters.
He's considered the favorite in the race because he carries strong name recognition, a network of supporters and campaign cash that could help him clear the field of other Republicans considering a run. Republican businessman Jim Wallace of Fishers has said he's exploring the possibility of running for governor. Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman will not seek the office.
Former state House Speaker John Gregg is considered a leading potential candidate for Democrats. Mr. Gregg has said he plans to form an exploratory committee but hasn't made a formal announcement yet. U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly also has been mentioned, but he's considering a run for the seat now held by Republican Sen. Richard G. Lugar.
Former Sen. Evan Bayh and Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel both have declined to run.
Mr. Daniels cannot seek a third consecutive term under state law. He is expected to announce in coming weeks whether he'll run for president.