Washington (CNN) - Decision time is nearing for Rep. Mike Pence, R-Indiana, who remains torn between seeking the governorship in his home state and mounting a dark horse bid for the presidency.
Pence said last week that he will make an announcement about his future by the end of January, but as he mulls which path to take in 2012, a group of conservatives are maneuvering to draft him into the presidential race.
A new pro-Pence group called “America’s President Committee” launched a petition drive Monday “urging conservatives and tea party members to sign a declaration encouraging Mr. Pence to run for President.”
The draft effort is being coordinated by Ralph Benko, a former Reagan administration official, and former Kansas Rep. Jim Ryun, who served alongside Pence until 2006 and was ranked as one of the most conservative members of Congress during five terms in Washington.
Their pitch: That in an underwhelming field of GOP presidential contenders, Pence is the strongest choice to unite the social, economic and national security wings of the Republican Party.
“Grassroots conservatives, Republicans, the Tea Party and populists are looking for a man or woman of principle who can champion and unite the newly energized and engaged citizenry,” Benko said in a statement announcing the new group. “Mike Pence is the best choice to lead us into a new era of peace and prosperity.”
Though he lacks the national profile of a Mitt Romney or Sarah Palin, Pence, who hosted a talk radio show before entering Congress in 2000, has spent years endearing himself to conservative audiences and is popular among grassroots activists.
He made repeated visits to the key early presidential states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in 2010.
But developments in Pence's backyard could be pulling him toward a gubernatorial bid. Indiana Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman, a popular Republican figure in the state, opted against a campaign for higher office in December, leaving Pence with a tidy path to the GOP nomination should he decide to run.
Though Skillman’s decision opened a door for Pence back home, Republicans close to the congressman insist he remains genuinely undecided about his future.