WASHINGTON (CNN) – Indiana Rep. Mike Pence has given high-profile speeches to conservative groups and journeyed to the presidential primary states of Iowa and South Carolina, travels that have generated chatter among Republican insiders that he might seek the presidency in 2012.
Now Pence is heading back to South Carolina once again, this time to raise money next Monday for his fellow congressman Gresham Barrett, who is leaving his seat in the House to run for governor. Pence has also lined up a meeting with the Charleston County Republican Party executive committee, a visit that was initiated by the congressman.
"He was coming down here for Gresham, and as a result of being here he called and offered if he could stop by and say hi," Charleston County GOP chairwoman Lin Bennett told CNN. Asked if she thought the appointment means Pence is putting feelers out for possible White House bid, Bennett said, "It does, but that's okay."
"That kind of thing usually starts to happen this time," she said, describing past meetings with possible presidential contenders. "I just hope it doesn't happen as early this time as it did during the last cycle."
Pence made an earlier trip to South Carolina in May 2008 to headline the state GOP's annual "Silver Elephant Dinner," which offered the congressman a chance to meet some of the state's top Republican players. Another Palmetto State connection: Pence's direct mail firm is Lexington-based Starboard Communications, which is headed up by Walter Whetsell, one of the state's top political consultants.
Before Pence's meeting on Monday with local activists, Pence will attend the private fundraiser for Barrett at a waterfront restaurant in Charleston. According to Barrett spokesman B.J. Boling, the two men "have a close friendship through their service in the House" and have "fought together for the conservative cause."
Aides to rival gubernatorial candidates also seeking the GOP nomination were quick to point out that Pence and Barrett haven't always seen eye-to-eye on issues dear to conservatives: Pence voted against President Bush's bailout of troubled financial institutions last October. Barrett voted for it.
Barrett's opponents in the Republican gubernatorial primary are Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, Attorney General Henry McMaster, state Sen. Larry Grooms and state Rep. Nikki Haley.