For those who were following this blog in hopes of hearing more often on a live and direct basis from the Mike Pence campaign trip, I had laptop charging issues and so did the bus. Thus, my Facebook page got updated regularly and the Tweets flew fast and furious, but the blog sadly languished. Regrettable, indeed; it was a high-octane, barnstorming couple of days.
I tweeted towards the end of the day on Wednesday, as we prepared for the 4th rally, 200 miles into a 400+ mile day, that we had embarked on “quite a marathon.” My friend Chris Crabtree, Congressman Pence’s Director of Outreach, reply tweeted that Wednesday was just a 5k; the real marathon would dawn on Thursday. He was right. Six rallies in 12 hours, 3 of them outside in a briskly windy Indiana fall climate!
Several memories from the two days will linger with me for years to come.
There is no one in American politics today whom I admire more than Congressman Mike Pence. I have followed his career ever since he ran for and won his 6th District seat in 2000 (the year I moved to the state). To have the chance to observe him up close for two days was an opportunity I had anticipated. Chris admonished all of us before we met the Congressman’s plane from DC that at each rally stop, we were to immediately get off of the bus and not linger with the Congressman because he never cuts a conversation off; we would fall hopelessly behind schedule if we didn’t adhere to this guideline. I observed the veracity of this description multiple times!
Congressman Pence’s energy is something to behold. He got onto the bus raring to go both mornings, made his way back to talk to all of us multiple times, held radio interviews while the bus was rolling, gave a rollicking stump speech at all 10 stops that wowed every crowd, participated in TV interviews…and did it all with unceasing warmth and goodwill. Mike Pence is a born storyteller; his background as a radio host is patently obvious because everything reminds him of a story, which is always shared with impeccable timing, rife with appropriate vocal modulation. The story always concludes with deep laughter from all around, which springs not just from the punch line, but the demeanor of joyous bonhomie that characterizes the anecdotal delivery.
There is another aspect of the day that deserves coverage, namely, the spiritual tone that was very purposefully set. Both days began with a prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, with no apologies or caveats for any who happened to be present who might not be comfortable with such practices. On the Pence bus, small group discussions were sprinkled regularly throughout the day on church denominational distinctions, Christian university regulations, church attendance practices and topics in a similar vein. At every stop, the Congressman openly advocated the dire need for a national healing, concluding his speech with a Scriptural reference, usually from II Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (NIV).
If, indeed, the Congressman ever runs for higher office, this dimension will be subjected to far greater scrutiny than it has, to date. This is justifiable and should be explored. But as a committed Christian myself, as well as one who understands the moorings on which this nation was birthed, I was repeatedly appreciative of the reverential, even Christ-centered atmosphere that characterizes the Mike Pence operation.
I reveled in every moment of the two days, but the last two rallies contained an extra measure of resonance for me. My friends and I fought hard, though we ultimately came up short, to see Marlin Stutzman nominated for Evan Bayh’s Senate seat this last May. But on Thursday afternoon, I stood shoulder to shoulder with my former primary antagonists, who are now not only allies, but friends: David Keller, Pete Seat and Matt Brinkman, supporting Marlin as he heads to victory this next Tuesday in Indiana’s 3rd Congressional District. We concurred that this is what Republicans do; we engage in spirited contests, but close ranks at the end of the day.
We piloted the day to a gloriously triumphant close in my own town of Kokomo. Our Tea Party organizers there pulled out all the stops and brought 400 people out to Stephens Machine Shop for a rally with Jackie Walorski, our candidate in the 2nd District to topple alleged “blue dog” Joe Donnelly. I have never been prouder of my town; if the unbridled enthusiasm of that crowd is any indicator at all, Joe Donnelly is going home to South Bend this January. Congressman Pence introduced Jackie Walorski, confessing to the crowd that “this is one lady I don’t ever want to follow at the podium” and urging all gathered that “we MUST hire Jackie Walorski if we want to fire Nancy Pelosi!”
On the final leg back to Indianapolis, I disclosed to my friend, Chris Crabtree, that the two day swing had elicited a completely unexpected, but welcome delight for me. I knew that I would derive joy from hanging out with fellow political junkies for two days and that two days of backstage access to one of America’s most popular conservative politicians was a rare treasure many would envy. That much, I could readily discern was in store.
I was, however, absolutely blindsided by the emotional impact of the speeches I heard from new candidates for our Indiana state legislature. These weren’t tear-jerking, maudlin set pieces. No, these were ordinary men and women, from all walks of life and multiple vocations, who arrived at the same realization over the course of the last 2 years. The narrative varied somewhat in minor details, but the general tenor was unwaveringly similar: “I never thought I would run for office! But I watched what was happening to my country and realized that I had no choice. I had to step up if I wanted to preserve for my children and/or grandchildren the country that has given me so much.”
I only wish President Obama could have been present to view what his “hope and change” has inspired!