INDIANAPOLIS | Having fulfilled his duty to sign new laws, if Gov. Mike Pence is considering a 2016 run for higher office he'll soon need to begin regularly meeting top Republican donors, traveling to early primary states and explaining why he would make a good president or vice president.
Pence ticked two of those boxes on a quick Chicago trip Thursday. The governor spoke to more than 300 business executives, including the heads of Ford and Honeywell, at the first Reinventing America Summit hosted by two-time GOP presidential candidate Steve Forbes, whose estimated net worth tops $400 million.
During the event, Pence explained how he is making Indiana the best possible site for businesses to locate, touting Tuesday's enactment of Senate Enrolled Act 1, which gradually reduces the state's corporate income tax rate from 6.5 percent next year to 4.9 percent by 2021.
"Whether it's the homegrown manufacturer looking to expand production or the global supplier looking to gain a competitive advantage in a pro-business environment, Indiana is competing for and winning more Hoosier jobs and knows what it takes to propel businesses to the next level," Pence said.
Compared to other states, Pence said, "We are reinventing what it means to be business-friendly, creating an environment that encourages job creation instead of complicating it. ... Our regulations are becoming simpler, and our workforce is getting stronger."
That message, which the second-year governor will take to several national television programs in coming weeks, almost is certain to resonate with Republican primary voters exasperated by what they see as high taxes, impossible regulations and inadequate support for business from Democrats and President Barack Obama.
At the same time, while Pence has avoided making social issues a top priority as governor, his 12-year congressional record strongly opposing abortion and gay marriage could endear him to that vocal wing of the Republican Party.
Washington pundits are beginning to take note, now listing Pence alongside New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as Republican state leaders who could make the jump to the White House.
However, Pence isn't saying where his ambitions may lie. After signing House Enrolled Act 1004 on Thursday, creating the state's first preschool funding program, he declared his attention right now is on the needs of Hoosiers.
"I'm always very humbled when people speak about us, speak about our political future," Pence said. "But I can tell you, days like today are an affirmation to me that my focus needs to remain on the future of the people of Indiana, and we'll let my future take care of itself."
Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody said Pence's increasing national profile doesn't really help Hoosiers, and Pence hardly is responsible for the policy accomplishments that he's so proud of, and which do little for the middle class.
"The governor has taken a relatively hands-off approach to governing, letting the Republican legislative supermajorities dictate the direction of our state," Zody said.