Who will be the Republican candidate for president in 2012? Sarah Palin recently said after a trip to Iowa that she would run “if nobody else stepped up” with solutions to our problems. But even though she is extremely popular among Republicans, more Americans—almost half of Americans, in fact—view her unfavorably than view her favorably. And, as Greg Sargent has noted, as popular as she is with Republican primary voters, far more Americans consider a Palin endorsement a negative than a positive. Whoever wins the nomination will likely have to have more appeal to the Republican establishment in any case.

One person who might be able to appeal both to ordinary social conservatives and Washington  Republicans is Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN). Pence, a lawyer and former radio talk show host who likes to describe himself as “Rush Limbaugh on decaf,” is a the third-ranking Republican in the House. And while the five-term Congressman doesn’t have much national name recognition, he’s popular enough with social conservatives to win the “Values Voter” straw presidential poll, narrowly beating out last year’s poll winner Mike Huckabee (Sarah Palin finished fifth, after not attending the event).

Pence, who calls himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order,” is one of the few members of Congress to speak at Tea Party rallies. He has been a vocal opponent of both same-sex marriage and abortions, although he did alienate many conservatives when he proposed a guest-worker program as a compromise solution to the immigration problem. He has more credibility among fiscal conservatives than many other Republicans, since he opposed both prescription-drug benefits for the elderly and the bailout of Wall Street under Bush as too expensive. He even controversially demanded that entitlement programs like Medicaid be cut to offset money spent in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “We do not consent to runaway federal spending by either political party,” he recently told a Tea Party rally. “And we demand an end to the borrowing, spending and bailouts once and for all.”

As socially conservative as he is, Pence won’t appeal to liberals at all. His willingness to slash popular entitlement programs will turn off a lot of voters. But he may be able to appeal to a broad range of conservatives—and win just enough independent voters to have a chance in 2012.