INDIANAPOLIS — Republican U.S. 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 Mitch Daniels in the state's top office.
The 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 Daniels' leadership.
"The work isn't over," Pence told supporters. "To keep Indiana growing, Hoosiers know we must have principled leadership at every level to make the right choices."
"We need to live within our means and embrace policies that will create good jobs, great schools, safe streets and strong families," he said.
Pence's announcement had been widely expected since 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.
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 delayed the call because of the death of Osama bin Laden. Pence said he planned a formal campaign kickoff on June 11 in his hometown of Columbus. His campaign website went up Thursday and featured a video of Pence and his wife, Karen.
Democrats quickly pounced on the fact that Pence was in Washington for the phone call with supporters.
"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 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."
Pence, who often describes himself as "a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order," has the backing of many tea party voters.
Republican Governors Association Chairman Governor Rick Perry said in a statement Thursday that Pence's decision is a "major blow" to Democrats hoping to regain control of the governor's office.
"Rep. Pence's consistent conservatism has earned him admiration nationally as well as at home in Indiana, and his reputation as a bold thinker would serve him well as governor," Perry said.
Pence is 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 House Speaker John Gregg is considered a leading potential candidate for Democrats. Gregg has said he plans to form an exploratory committee but hasn't made a formal announcement yet. U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly has also been mentioned, but he's considering a run for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Richard Lugar.
Former Sen. Evan Bayh and Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel both have declined to run.
Daniels cannot seek a third consecutive term under state law. He is expected to announce in coming weeks whether he'll run for president.
AP reporter Deanna Martin can be reached at http://twitter.com/deanna_martin .
Pence campaign: www.mikepence.com