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“Indiana congressman making name for himself”
Exposure: Mike Pence takes to national airwaves
The Mike Pence File
# Age: 44
# Education: Bachelor's degree from Hanover College, 1981; law degree from Indiana University, 1986.
# Religion: Christian
# Family: Wife, Karen; three children
# Home: Columbus, Ind.
# Career experience: attorney, 1986-1991; president, Indiana Policy Review Foundation, 1991-93; radio broadcaster, Network Indiana, 1992-99; host, Public Affairs TV, UPN-23, 1995-99; U.S. House, 2001-present.
Source: The Almanac of American Politics, 2002
WASHINGTON -- When Indiana Rep. Mike Pence ran his own radio and television talk shows before being elected to Congress, the guests he asked back again and again had two qualities: They were effective speakers and they were available.
Pence has tried to apply the same standards to himself. And it's working.
Although he is finishing only his third year in Congress, Pence, who represents Indiana's Sixth District, including Wayne County, has become a regular on TV news shows. He stands for re-election to a third term next year.
He appeared eight times on CNN's "Crossfire" this year, 10 times on "Fox News Live," three times on ABC's "World News Tonight" and twice on "NBC Nightly News." He was mentioned or quoted seven times in The New York Times, five times in The Washington Post and six times in USA Today, including a nearly full-page story on how Pence's constituents were reacting to his stand on funding Iraq's reconstruction.
In all, he has appeared on or been mentioned in national radio, television and newspaper stories more than 200 times this year, according to his office. That's more than four times his national exposure in 2002.
"If you're a C-SPAN junkie you see Mike Pence more than one might expect a junior lawmaker to be on there," said Robert Dion, political science professor at the University of Evansville. "If you read the national newspapers or watch the television, he's carving out a good niche for himself."
When media outlets call looking for Republicans to interview, the GOP passes on Pence's name.
In recent months, much of the national attention Pence has received is a result of the Columbus Republican's vocal opposition to two White House priorities: the Medicare prescription drug bill Bush signed into law this month and the administration's insistence that reconstruction funds for Iraq be grants and not loans.
But during a visit to Richmond on Dec. 11, Pence stressed to constituents and the Palladium-Item editorial board that his respect for the president has not lessened.
"He (Bush) has made the country safer for my family," Pence said.
Pence also appeared on national television twice in September to talk about a law he wrote that makes it a crime to use misleading Web addresses that lead children to pornography sites.
But many of his appearances on national programs -- such as recent one on Fox to discuss the administration's barring non-allies in the Iraq war from receiving reconstruction contracts -- came about because Pence was a willing talking head.
"We love having him on," said "Crossfire" co-host Tucker Carlson. "You'd be amazed at the number of members of Congress who won't go on. It does require a certain toughness. It requires someone who is not going to get rattled midsentence. And a lot of press secretaries don't trust their members to pull that off."
During his broadcast appearances, Pence has talked about AIDS, North Korea, tax cuts, the Middle East, Hillary Clinton, government secrecy, gay marriage, prescription drugs, the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and presidential politics, among other issues.
"I grew up in a family with three brothers, two sisters and two parents with strong opinions," Pence said. "I just love a good argument. When I see two people arguing, I walk up and say, 'Is this a private matter or can anybody get in?"'
There's always the danger that too much media exposure can give Pence the reputation of a media hog and make him the latest subject of this staple inside-the-Beltway joke:
"What's the most dangerous place to stand in Washington?
"Between (insert lawmaker here) and the television cameras."
Pence's office likes to point out to the local media when Pence makes the national news and his Web site boasts that "Rep. Pence has become a national spokesman for conservative principles."
Soon after being sworn in, Pence installed a radio studio in his office so he could easily appear on shows.
"I came to really believe that the debate in newsprint, television and radio was every bit as important as the debate that occurred on the floor of the House and the Senate," Pence said.
Conservatives are generally wary of much of the media, said former House Majority Leader Dick Armey. They feel "like any attention they're getting from the media is going to eventually come back and be negative," he said.
So if Pence is as comfortable talking to The New York Times as he is appearing on Fox, that makes him an asset in the party -- up to a point.
"I'm not sure right now the (Republican) leadership wants him to have face time," Armey said.
Pence said his colleagues asked him during the Medicare debate not to be so vocal in his opposition. He didn't rein himself in and was part of about four dozen national print and broadcast Medicare stories last month.
"I'm not a big believer in half-hearted support or opposition," Pence said.
The Indiana Democratic Party did not return calls asking about Pence. Luke Messer, the Indiana Republican Party's executive director, said the exposure helps Pence because "most voters like to know that their local congressman is a leader."
"You seem to see him almost everywhere," Messer said.
Carlson said frequent "Crossfire" watchers are political insiders, including congressional offices, and doing well on the show can enhance a lawmaker's reputation.
"You're performing for your peers," he said.
But political scientist Dion noted that media exposure doesn't necessarily equal effectiveness. Some lawmakers get quoted often because they're colorful figures, yet they're not taken seriously. While others avoid the spotlight, but can be very influential behind the scenes.
While Pence doubts most constituents in his east central Indiana district catch his national media appearances, he said he does hear from his supporters when he's on Fox and from Democratic friends who see him on CNN.
As Pence was leaving the Wayne County Sheriff's Office on Thursday after shaking hands with officers and others, one man called out, "See you on CNN."
"You have?" Pence asked, spinning around. "And the man said, 'No. But I know I will."
Originally published Wednesday, December 31, 2003