Politics

Could There Soon Be Another Pence in Washington?

Vice President’s older brother likely to run for Congress in Indiana

Denise and Greg Pence attended President Donald Trump’s inauguration. (Courtesy Denise Pence/Facebook)

Greg Pence starred in a recent candidate announcement video, but it wasn’t for his own campaign — at least not yet.

The older brother of Vice President Mike Pence is the finance chairman of Indiana Rep. Luke Messer’s Senate campaign, and on the day Messer tweeted he was getting in the race, Greg Pence was the one who addressed the camera.

The eldest of the six Pence siblings has political ambitions of his own. He’s widely expected to run for Messer’s seat, in Indiana’s now-open 6th District, though he won’t yet talk publicly about those intentions.

If he were to enter that primary, he’d start with an advantage, given his last name. It’s the same congressional seat his younger brother held for 12 years before being elected governor. 

A brotherly bond

At 3:30 a.m. on Nov. 9, Greg and Denise Pence hosted their family in a room at the Hilton Midtown in Manhattan. Mike Pence had just been elected the 48th vice president of the United States.

Hours earlier, before going to watch election returns with Donald Trump, the vice presidential candidate was, again, with his older brother and sister-in-law, who had hosted a rally back in Indiana for the GOP presidential ticket at their antique mall the week before the election.

Greg Pence has been a frequent presence at his brother’s side, through congressional and gubernatorial campaigns, and then the presidential campaign last year. On the trail in Indiana, Greg, who has the same white hair, would sometimes be mistaken for Mike. 

“I am the brother of the vice president of the United States,” Greg said at Messer’s annual family barbecue on Saturday, where the congressman officially launched his Senate bid. “And no, I do not look like him, he looks like me. I’m the oldest.”

When Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, a Hoosier political commentator and writer, spotted a white-haired man at the Columbia Club in Indianapolis years ago, he thought it was Mike Pence. But it couldn’t be. He was drinking a beer.

That was the first time he meet Greg, whom he described as more relaxed than his brother, mostly because he’s not in the spotlight — not yet, anyway. 

Greg doesn’t have any electoral experience himself. Friends and observers couldn’t recall any specific policy expertise or campaign advice he gave his brother. His counsel was best described as the kind of candid advice only a brother could give, and he has always been the most active volunteer in the family for his more famous sibling. 

Denise was an early Trump supporter and a delegate to the Republican National Convention. Their son, John, is the deputy executive director of Trump’s re-election campaign. 

Hoosier politicos have been surprised by just how active Greg has been in Messer’s campaign. Finance chairman is usually just a “name on a letterhead,” as one Republican in the district put it. But not for Greg, who’s been going to Lincoln Day Dinners and played a public role in the rollout of Messer’s Senate bid.

No one doubts his dedication to helping Messer; but high visibility also serves a potential congressional candidate well. 

A businessman 

Greg is about three years older than the vice president. His friends describe him as a dedicated family man with a sharp sense of humor, who can make fun of his younger brother like no one else can.

After receiving undergraduate and graduate degrees at Loyola University Chicago in the early 1980s, he served four years in the Marine Corps, earning the rank of first lieutenant.

He worked for Marathon Oil and Unocal Corporation, then became vice president of Kiel Brothers Oil Company, the family’s gas station and convenience store business.

The company operated about 200 KB Oil gas stations and Tobacco Road convenience stores in Indiana, southern Illinois and Kentucky. In 2004, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and Greg resigned. By 2006, the company owed more than $100 million to creditors, which included $9 million to local and state governments, according to The (Muncie) Star Press. 

Pence had a brief, and controversial, tenure in government. In 2005, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels appointed him deputy commissioner of the state’s Department of Environmental Management — the very same agency that cited Kiel Brothers for environmental violations in the past. Pence was slated to earn $91,000 a year in that job, The Indianapolis Star reported at the time, but he only lasted two and a half months.

He stepped down from his position in March 2005, saying he was no longer needed. “I am the spare groom at the wedding,” Greg said, according to the Star.

Greg and Denise are best known in the business world today for their ownership of the Exit 76 Antique Mall in Edinburgh, a 72,000-square foot space that they purchased in 2006. More recently, they purchased the smaller Bloomington Antique Mall. 

The 6th District

The Trump administration remains popular in Pence’s backyard.

“There’s just no real frustration that you read about. That’s not on the ground in the 6th District,” one Republican familiar with the district said. 

Greg is from Columbus, a city of 47,000 people in the central part of the district, which covers eastern and southeastern Indiana.

Jonathan Lamb, a Muncie businessman, announced his candidacy for the seat earlier this month. He’s expected to be able to self-fund about $100,000 but doesn’t have a substantial network in the district. State Sen. Mike Crider has said he’s running and Henry County Council President Nate LaMar may do so, but neither is expected to be able to raise much money. The same goes for longtime state Sen. Jean Leising, who was the losing GOP nominee in the old 9th District three times in the 1990s.

Greg’s last name will open doors, Indiana Republicans agree. And because of his work for his brother and with Messer, he’s already well-connected in the district. But Greg has enough credentials on his own merits to make a compelling GOP candidate, Hoosier Republicans say. Party leaders are excited about his business experience and military service. 

“If you’re looking for people to go run for office, I’d put him at the top of the list,” said Bob Grand, a big Indiana Republican fundraiser and member of Messer’s finance team. 

“He’s not a guy who’s going to coast on his brother’s name,” added another Republican familiar with the district.

When he’s been asked about his own intentions to run, though, Greg pivots to the Messer campaign. An informal adviser said Friday that Greg intends to travel the district on a listening tour with constituents before he makes a final decision.

Correction, Oct. 18, 2:09 p.m. | Due to an editing error, the photo caption in an earlier version of this story misstated Greg Pence’s first name.

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