One of my favorite moments from my seven years of toiling happily at the Heritage Foundation came in 2006 just before I introduced Rep. Mike Pence as a speaker. As we sat together chatting, I casually asked him if he would run for president.

His response was one of those “have you completely lost your mind” looks one rarely sees in public on the faces of politicians as cool, composed and competent as Pence. Then we both shared a laugh, I introduced him, and life went on, he to become chairman of the House Republican Conference and me to an humble position with this newspaper.

But I was serious when I asked the question because I’ve long thought Pence is one of those rarest of Washington figures – a man who says what he means and means what he says. There aren’t many such men in either party.

Remember, Pence is the guy who is “a Christian first, then a conservative, then a Republican.” The guy has his priorities in order. Don’t get me wrong, this is not an endorsement of Pence because honesty and having the right priorities are only two of the most important qualification for the Oval Office. There are others and we have not yet seen enough of Pence on the national stage to make judgments in those regards.

It is important for the Republic, though, that men like Pence stand for high office and especially so for the highest office. I think there are abundant reasons for thinking this Indianan could become the Republican leader for the 21st century. For now, here are three of those reasons:

First, there is his level-headedness. It’s both a blessing and a curse. When he speaks, Pence usually gives the impression of having thought it through, of knowing what he is talking about in that detailed way that can only be the product of genuine reflection. It is a curse when Pence comes across as a bit pedantic. This is far from a show-stopper.

Second, there are his convictions. He is a man of faith and a genuine conservative who understands that economic freedom produces the best results for everybody concerned when sown among consumers who are independent, trustworthy, family oriented and hard-working.

In his recent speech to the Detroit Economic Club, Pence offered this common sense observation:

“All I really know about economics is what you tax you get less of and what you subsidize you get more of. We need a tax system that will encourage income, savings, investment and growth, but our tax code does the opposite. It punishes savers and investors by taxing them twice and in some cases more times than that.

“To promote income, savings and investment, we need a system built on the principle that income should be taxed once and just once. We need a fair and effective method of taxation that will make doing your taxes easy and remove the confusion of the present tax code.”

To that end, he supports a flat tax. Me, too. End the complexity, end the confusion, end the cultivation of tax breaks for the politically influential. In short, Pence is a supply-sider on economics.

That makes Pence the closest thing on the GOP political scene that I know of to the kind of fusionist that Ronald Reagan epitomized. With adherents as diverse as they are within GOP, including everything from gold bugs and libertarians, to classical liberals and defenders of traditional marriage and family, it very likely will require a Pence to unify the party for the epic clash of 2012.

Finally, there is his normalcy. Pence doesn’t have to work at seeming to be comfortable with folks from all sorts of social, economic and political strata. He’s obviously comfortable with who he is and why he is where he is and could be, which is the most important ingredient.

I don’t see that “fire in the belly” ambition that disciples of the conventional political wisdom have been telling us for lo these many years are essential to the winning presidential race. That’s an attribute of the imperial presidency, not of the Constitution’s chief executive. Pence is thinking of running because he worries for his country and wants to help right the ship of state.

There is an old maxim that God protects drunks and the United States of America. I think that is mostly true, but He works through good men. That’s why Pence should run – we need to see how good he can be.

Mark Tapscott is editorial page editor of The Washington Examiner.