Who is Mike Pence? Vice presidential candidate familiar to Hoosiers but not to nation

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Gov. Mike Pence

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Indiana Gov. Mike Pence emerged as the front-runner in Donald Trump’s vice presidential sweepstakes and won.

And while Hoosiers are familiar with Pence and his policies in Indiana, many around the country may not be. Compared to someone like Newt Gingrich or Chris Christie, Pence is lacking in national name recognition. A CBS News poll said 86 percent of voters are undecided or don’t know enough about him to form an opinion.

Here’s a look at Pence’s background and his first term as Indiana’s governor:


Pence was born in Columbus, Ind., in Bartholomew County, which is about 50 miles south of Indianapolis. He is one of six children. Pence is a graduate of Columbus North High School and Hanover College. He earned his J.D. from the IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law.

Radio host

Pence hosted a radio talk show that was syndicated across the state. It originated on WRCR-FM in Rushville in 1994.

Political ambition

Pence ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1988 and 1990. He made it to Congress in 2000, winning a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in the state’s 2nd Congressional District.

He was reelected as a representative in the 6th District (the 2nd district having been renamed in 2002) and served in the House through 2013.

Pence ran for minority leader in the House, but his colleagues chose John Boehner (R-Ohio) instead. He was chosen as Republican Conference Chairman in 2009 after running unopposed.

Pence considered running for the Senate in 2010 but ultimately decided against it.

Return to Indiana

Pence announced in May 2011 that he would seek the Republican nomination for governor of Indiana. He won the 2012 election against Democrat John Gregg and took office on January 14, 2013.

Pence ran on a platform of tax reform and bringing jobs to Indiana.

Controversies as governor

While Pence is popular among conservative voters, he’s also rankled many Hoosiers in his home state with controversies ranging from a “state run” news agency to divisive fights over abortion and LGBT rights.

December 2014 – Pence announced the dissolution of the Center for Education and Career Innovation. Formed in August 2013, the center became a flashpoint of controversy between Pence and Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, a Democrat.

January 2015 – Pence announced the creation of “JustIN” a news service that would feature news stories written by Pence’s staff. Derided as the “Pravda of the Plains,” Pence eventually scrapped the idea after intense criticism.

March 2015 – Pence signed the state’s divisive Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into law in a private ceremony. Pence insisted the law was not about discrimination, but the state received pushback from the LGBT community and businesses leaders.

Some threatened boycotts of the state, suggesting the law wasn’t about protecting religious liberties but instead discriminated against gays and lesbians. Pence stood firm, saying the law was not going to be changed and stumbling through an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

As pressure mounted against Indiana, state lawmakers proposed a “fix” that would clarify the law’s intent. Pence signed the reworked legislation into law.

November 2015 – Pence, citing concerns about Islamic extremists, tried to keep Syrian refugees out of the state of Indiana. The country is embroiled in a fierce civil war that has led many to flee to other countries. A judge eventually blocked Pence’s ban, although the state asked for a stay in March 2016. He later criticized calls to ban Muslims as “offensive and unconstitutional.”

April 2016 – Pence is unabashedly pro-life and his support for restrictive abortion legislation has raised the ire of pro-choice groups. The most recent controversy involves HEA 1337, which Pence signed into law. The legislation prevents women from aborting a fetus due to Down syndrome or genetic abnormalities; it also prevents abortions sought on the basis of gender or race.

A group called “Periods for Pence” launched a social media campaign critical of the governor. Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the law.

Indiana primary

Pence gave a tepid endorsement to Republican Ted Cruz during the May 2016 primary.

“I will be voting for Ted Cruz in the upcoming Republican primary,” Pence said at the time. “I think the man has shown the courage of his convictions. It’s not a popular thing in Washington, D.C.”

But Pence also had some kind words for Donald Trump, who ultimately won the Hoosier State by a large margin, helping Trump become the presumptive GOP presidential nominee.

“I particularly want to commend Donald Trump, who I think has given voice to the frustration of millions of working Americans.”

Popular with evangelicals

Pence is very popular with conservatives. He has described himself as a “Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.” His selection as vice president helps bring balance to the GOP ticket, and he and Trump offer stark contrasts in temperament, with Pence viewed as collected and cool while Trump is seen as fiery and unpredictable.

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