A lot of conservatives have had trouble enthusiastically embracing Donald Trump.
Then came Mike Pence.
“I love Pence,” said Bill Lytle, a contractor from York who supported Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s unsuccessful presidential bid. “He’s helped me as a conservative Republican see there’s balance on the ticket.”
When Pence squares off against Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s running mate, Tuesday in the lone vice presidential debate, supporters like Lytle are looking to the Indiana governor to balance out Trump’s uneven performance in last week’s first presidential debate.
In Pence, they see a reliable, religious conservative who solidifies their support for a ticket headed by a candidate whose GOP bona fides have been questioned – from his contribution to Clinton’s 2008 campaign to taking positions viewed by some as far more centrist and even liberal in the past than the Republican orthodoxy.
“In so many ways, he’s an anchoring force for him – ties him into a base of the party Trump is wholly unfamiliar with, and it gives him a degree of credibility among conservatives,” former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said of Pence. “In recent weeks, the Republican vote is consolidating. Now some of that, of course, is just the general course of how a campaign unfolds, but a lot more of it is what Mike Pence has brought to the ticket.”
While Steele and others see Pence as a conservative star, opponents see a crusading zealot determined to roll back abortion rights.
“The dangerous and extreme ideas Donald Trump talks about every single day have actually been acted upon by Mike Pence in Indiana,” said Marcy Stech, vice president of communications for Emily’s List, a group that helps Democratic women who support abortion rights. “We have seen that on the ground in Indiana.”
Pence’s importance to the GOP ticket was evident during last month’s Values Voter Summit in Washington, where Trump and Pence became the first presidential ticket to address the annual gathering of social conservative activists and faith-based voters.
Trump delivered a speech that didn’t mention abortion. Pence was showered with applause the following day when he declared that “the Trump-Pence administration will stand for the sanctity of life and defend the unborn, from the first day we take office.”
“I want to live to see the day that we put the sanctity of life back at the center of American law and we send Roe vs. Wade to the ash heap of history, where it belongs,” he said.
He brought a guy who thinks like me.
supporter Bill Lytle on Trump’s choice of Pence as running mate
J. Michael McKoy, a talk show host on a Christian radio station in Iowa, calls Pence “the real deal” and wishes he were atop the Republican ticket instead of Trump.
“Unlike other candidates, I think his faith is real,” McKoy said. “I’m not looking at what he’s saying or telling anybody. I’m looking at what he’s been doing before he was the vice president candidate. The fruit seems to be there back in his home state.”
Pence has signed multiple anti-abortion measures since becoming Indiana’s governor in 2013. In May, he signed a bill that many regard as one of the most restrictive in the nation.
It bans abortions based on the woman’s objection over the fetus’ race, gender or disability. The measure also requires that abortion providers bury or cremate fetal tissue, which Planned Parenthood argues would increase its expenses.
The restrictions even prompted some anti-abortion Indiana state House Republicans to go the floor and declare their opposition to the measure.
“It’s a sad day for me to have to vote no on a pro-life bill,” said state Rep. Cindy Ziemke, a Republican who objected to its disability clause. “I’ve never had to do that before. I never thought I would ever have to.”
Pence’s signing of the bill spurred protest from abortion rights supporters, including a “Periods for Pence” effort in which women provided the governor with detailed information on their menstrual cycles. The drive morphed into “Tampons for Trump” after he joined the Republican presidential ticket.
In June, a federal judge blocked the law from going into effect, saying it would probably be found unconstitutional. But the bill enhanced Pence’s stature among conservatives.
He’s somebody that’s not afraid to be able to challenge authority and to say, ‘I disagree with the direction that we are going.’
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., who served with Mike Pence in the House of Representatives
Still, people seem to know more about what Pence has done than who the former talk radio show host and former House member is. McClatchy spoke to 20 people gathered for a Pence rally at Penn Waste just outside of York in swing state Pennsylvania.
“Senator from Indiana,” said Denise Gross, who runs a Palmyra cleaning business.
“He’s a general,” said Ruthann Brant, a Dallastown retiree. “I don’t know much about him.”
Brent Bortner, a York HVAC technician, thought at first that Pence was the governor of Illinois.
What people did know was similar to the view of Melody McCarty, a York retiree.
“He’s level-headed and he’s a Christian,” said McCarty, who’s concerned that abortion advocates are “killing off generations of our future.”
Kevin Shepheard, a juvenile center administration from York, was a fan of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Pence, he said, solidified his support for the Trump ticket.
“I wish Trump could be more polished,” Shepheard said. “Pence makes me more comfortable.”