Presidential talk may bring more eyes to Pence address

The content and structure of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s State of the State address on Tuesday evening is likely to be similar to years’ past.

The audience may not be.

With a cloud of speculation surrounding Pence and the “will-he-or-won’t-he” debate on a possible presidential run, the Republican needs to be careful how he presents himself because more eyes—inside and outside Indiana—will be watching, said Andrew Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics.

“He is facing an interesting challenge because he will need to talk about national issues in a way people not in Indiana will understand and relate to, but also in a way that people in Indiana can understand and relate to,” Downs said. “He runs the risk of sounding too much like a state candidate or presidential candidate—which could hurt him.”

Pence is scheduled to deliver his third State of the State address at 7 p.m. from the House chamber. The address can be viewed live online at this site, organizers say.

Regardless of the added drama for Pence’s speech, Downs said every State of the State is important because it gives the governor an opportunity to remind people what is going well in the state.

Still, Ed Feigenbaum, publisher of INGroup, said that most of the annual speeches are similar.

“Once you start reviewing past State of the State addresses from brand new incoming governors to a returning governor who has been in office for several years, you’re looking at the same type of structure for the speech," he said. "State of the State addresses have a real strict script that don’t change a lot regardless of the governor.”

Indiana House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath said he hopes Pence doesn’t focus on creating a presidential campaign moment, but instead keys on subjects that matter to Indiana.

“I’m (hoping it’s) not just more of the same,” Pelath said. “We’ve seen too much focus on getting more money and power in the hands of the right people as a tool of economic development. We’ve seen too much doubling down on current educational policies that don’t address the life-long learning needs we have here in Indiana."

“If the governor can resist those temptations, then I think he has an opportunity to have a semi-successful speech,” Pelath added. “But if we just hear rhetoric for Iowa and New Hampshire, it is probably going to leave something to be desired.”

Long-time Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, believes Pence’s speech will be focused on Indiana policy—not national issues that concern a possible presidential candidate. Alting expects Pence to address key issues for the state, including K-12 education plans, economic development, and taxation.

“He will keep the speech to local politics,” Alting said. “I won’t be surprised if he will say that his No. 1 concentration and No. 1 priority is the state of Indiana. That will be given a round of applause, as it should.”

“I do think he’s doing that,” Alting said. “There’s 24 hours in a day, and all 24 hours are concentrated toward the state of Indiana.”

But Downs also said Pence needs to take the opportunity to discuss possible concerns if he in fact does run for president—such as his executive leadership abilities.

And while some state politicians may believe the presidential speculation could be a distraction for Pence, Downs said the increased national attention actually benefits the state in the long run.

“Pence is probably the only one who knows if he will or won’t run. We won’t know until the (legislative) session is over,” Downs said. “Whether he runs or not, it’s a good move for him to maintain national presence because it increased his capital. It makes him more influential and could be more beneficial to the state.”

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