A man with a mission as next president?Russ PulliamSpecial to the NewsMike Pence may not be running for president, but he sure sounds like a candidate.Pence, a Republican from Indiana's 6th district, has stepped up his critique of President Barack Obama and his big-government policies and has offered various conservative alternatives.In foreign policy, he thinks Obama has invited disaster by issuing repeated apologies."The American people know that weakness arouses evil," Pence said at an Advance America event in Carmel last week. "They know that bowing and kowtowing to foreign dictators only diminishes our standing in the world."Pence is not in the presidential hunt the way other Republicans -- Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee -- obviously are. Yet Pence is the most articulate spokesman for the Republican opposition in Congress, and he is making his views known in early primary states such as Iowa and South Carolina.News reporters come away noting his ability to offer his dissent from Obama's plans in a cheerful manner.If he were to jump in the race, he would quickly contest Huckabee and Palin for the conservative wing of the party. He also would have some appeal to moderate voters because of his moderate temperament."I'm a conservative, but I'm not in a bad mood about it," he likes to say.Another strength is how Pence outgrew a wrongly motivated personal ambition that drove his 1988 and 1990 campaigns for Congress. Through a classic case of Christian self-examination, he retreated to the wilderness of radio and television talk shows in the 1990s. He returned in 2000 with a refreshing candor and willingness to leave his career plans in the hands of a higher power.The ambition remains, but it's directed more at conservative ideas than a personal plan to make it to the White House or anywhere else in a certain time frame.One of Pence's weaknesses is that he has served only in the House. Yet Barack Obama demonstrated that inexperience in administration is no bar to presidential ambition.Pence's advisers realize that he may still need to demonstrate executive capacity -- perhaps with a term or two as governor of Indiana.Another option for Pence is a shot at a Senate seat, if Sen. Richard Lugar does not run in 2012.For now, Pence may be content to serve in the House and offer free-market, traditional values alternatives to the Obama administration.From that perch, he could attract notice as a vice presidential option. The question is who has the right mix of charisma and conviction that Ronald Reagan brought to the top of the ticket in 1980?(Russell B. Pulliam, journalist, book author, associate editor and columnist at The Indianapolis Star, is a syndicated columnist, whose columns focus on topics ranging from politics to social issues to family life. He may be contacted at: russell.pulliam@indystar.com.)