Republican Rep. Greg Pence announced Tuesday that he would retire after only three terms representing Indiana in the House, a move that comes just a few months after his younger brother, former Vice President Mike Pence, pulled the plug on his own presidential campaign.
The 6th Congressional District, which includes the southern and eastern Indianapolis area and as well as part of east-central Indiana, favored Donald Trump by a 65-33 spread in 2020, so the winner of the May 7 Republican primary should have little difficulty holding it. The candidate filing deadline is a month away on Feb. 9.
This year’s GOP nomination contest will probably be considerably more competitive than the one that Pence went through six years ago, back when his sibling was still one of the most powerful politicians in the state and the nation. Before entering politics, Greg Pence served in the Marines and ran the family’s chain of gas stations, Kiel Bros. Oil Co. But the company went bankrupt in 2004 during his tenure, an expensive debacle that, as the Associated Press reported in 2018, forced Indiana, Illinois, and Kentucky to spend tens of millions to decontaminate the sites it left behind.
However, the mess did little to stop the future congressman’s rise. Indiana’s new Republican governor, Mitch Daniels, named him the next year to a senior position at the state’s Department of Environmental Management, even though Pence had no environmental credentials. The new appointee ended up leaving after just two and a half months, and he and his wife went on to become the owners of two malls devoted to selling antiques.
In 2020, Pence’s Democratic opponent in his first campaign for reelection, Jeannine Lee Lake, generated national attention when she highlighted the racist items available for purchase at one of the locations; a spokesperson for Pence responded that his boss was “not engaged in the active management” of the mall.
Pence got his first chance to run for office two years earlier, when Rep. Luke Messer, who represented much of the turf that Mike Pence once served in Congress, left to challenge Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly. Greg Pence, who chaired Messer’s Senate fundraising committee, entered the race and scared off most other would-be candidates.
His most prominent intraparty rival was Jonathan Lamb, a wealthy businessman who aired a bizarre Super Bowl ad in which he joked “that the Lamb family has been close to the White House for over a century” because President Woodrow Wilson had lambs —as in, the farm animals—”working for him in 1918 as a cost-cutting measure to keep the White House lawn looking its best.”
Pence, for his part, spent his time on the campaign trail avoiding questions from the media about his business failures and most other topics. The strategy worked: Pence beat Lamb 64-24 even as his ally, Messer, was losing his own primary to businessman Mike Braun, who went on to defeat Donnelly that November.
Pence easily won his general election, and he had no trouble holding his seat even after his brother became a MAGA pariah on Jan. 6. Indeed, the congressman joined the majority of his caucus by voting against recognizing Joe Biden’s win hours after Capitol rioters chanted “Hang Mike Pence” before a gallows, and he went on to oppose independent commissions to investigate the attack.
However, there were already signs that Pence was looking to leave the House well before his brother’s White House bid crashed to a halt in October. As far back as January, Politico’s Adam Wren reported that Hoosier State political watchers had “widely gossiped” about the possibility that the congressman could forgo reelection so that he could serve as the running mate of Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, one of several Republicans running for Indiana’s open governorship. A spokesperson for Crouch went on to say in August that she’d asked Pence to “consider” the idea.
Pence said a short time later that he planned to seek reelection, though he never appears to have directly addressed the idea he could run for lieutenant governor. Crouch faces a crowded field of opponents in the May primary, including the Trump-endorsed Braun, but a Crouch-Pence ticket might not come to pass even if she wins. Nominees for lieutenant governor in Indiana are chosen by a party convention rather than primary voters, and delegates are under no obligation to pick the person their party’s gubernatorial choice wants them to select.