Okay, okay.  Mike Pence isn’t exactly on the sideline.  Far from it.  We all know how indispensable he has been to the conservative movement.  He has strong leadership skills and he is an effective communicator.  Around the country, he is recognized as a voice of opposition to President Obama’s agenda.

I say all of this to prove a point, though.

Mike Pence has a unique opportunity to elevate his national profile and, simultaneously, to further the conservative agenda.  The 2010 Senate race in Indiana is that opportunity.

The current political environment in America is anti-incumbent and very sympathetic to conservatives’ message.  Indiana is no different.  While the Hoosier State went narrowly for Obama in 2008 (the first time in 44 years that a Democrat presidential candidate has won Indiana), he will not take it in 2012.  In 2006, Democrats won 3 congressional seats from Republicans, taking the State’s delegation from a 7-2 GOP advantage to a 5-4 Democrat edge.  It is likely that Republicans will take back some of these seats in 2010.  The Republicans are also likely to take back the Indiana House of Representatives next November, giving the GOP total control of State government once again.

Basically, Indiana is ripe for the picking, if conservatives want it, and that includes Evan Bayh’s Senate seat. As it stands today, though, Bayh is likely to be re-elected to the Senate.  Why, you ask?

The Bayh family is a strong institution in Indiana.  Much like the Carnahans in Missouri or the Cuomos in New York, the Bayhs have been involved in almost every level of State government.  Evan’s father, Birch Bayh, was a State legislator in the 1950s and a United States Senator from 1963-1981.  Evan himself was Secretary of State and Governor for many years.  In 1992, 1998, and 2004, Evan was elected statewide with more than 60 percent of the vote.  His telegenic face and conservative image has made him very popular in Indiana.  Evan also has nearly $13 million in the bank, which is probably the biggest obstacle to a Republican victory.

There are several Republicans already vying for this Senate seat, including businessmen Richard Beheney and Don Bates.  State Senator Marlin Stutzman is also in the race, and former Congressman John Hostettler announced his candidacy in December.  While all of these men have conservative credentials, none of them have the name recognition or fundraising capacity that Mike Pence does.

If Mike Pence got into this race, he would instantly make it competitive.  Major polling firms would begin surveying Indiana, and they would find a very close contest.  Political analysts would move the race from “safe Democrat” to “toss up.”  Evan Bayh would get very nervous and would begin voting against Harry Reid every chance could.

Many in Indiana believe that Mike Pence has his eyes set on higher office, either succeeding Mitch Daniels in 2012 or perhaps even Barack Obama.  Others say he wants to stay in the House so he can become Speaker some day.  I would argue that if Pence wants to run for higher office someday, then it is in his best interest to run for Senate right now.  If he wins the Senate seat, then he will instantly become a contender for President, in 2012 and beyond.  If he loses, then he becomes a strong favorite for Governor in 2012.  Both offices would be major stepping stones to the White House.  Bill Kristol said as much in his Weekly Standard blog post, “Draft Pence!”.

The bottom line is, if Mike Pence does not jump into this race, it is likely that Evan Bayh will win.  Bayh won’t win with 60+ percent of the vote, as he has for many years, but he will win nonetheless.  No offense to the other candidates, but they probably do not have what it takes to beat Bayh.  I may be wrong.  Maybe the conservative wave this November will be so strong that even Evan Bayh cannot be spared.  I hope so, but I doubt it.

Mike Pence’s conservative message will resonate well in Indiana.  If he jumped into the race, Pence would be able to fundraise nationally and take that message around the State.  Given Bayh’s cash advantage, Pence is our best shot to bring big money into the race.

2010 is probably the best chance we’ll ever have to take out Evan Bayh.  If we can’t beat him in this environment, then we never will.

Congressman Pence:  Run for Senate against Evan Bayh.