Donald Trump’s choice of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence provides the ticket with solid conservative credentials, a dash of establishment respectability and an experienced hand who knows his way around Capitol Hill.
Perhaps more than anything, the telegenic, media-savvy Pence, 57, adds some ice to Trump’s fiery bombast on the campaign trail, something that many nervous mainstream Republicans have been begging for.
“He’s a very low-key, get-it-done type of guy,” said Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., a Trump supporter who served with Pence for two years in the House of Representatives. “Opposites attract, different styles. You need different styles to motivate different types of personalities. ... He’s got a lot of relationships here and a lot of people like him.”
One of Pence’s favorite sayings is “I’m a conservative, but I’m not angry about it,” and he even described himself as a “Rush Limbaugh on decaf” during a stint as a conservative talk radio show host in the 1990s. That even-tempered attitude helped him morph from a bomb-throwing conservative House member to “someone who could legislate,” said former Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., a moderate who served with Pence in the House.
“He had to adjust to the reality of congressional coalitions, and he did,” Davis said.
Pence has also described himself as a “small-town guy from southern Indiana who grew up with a cornfield in my backyard,” but he earned the ardor of national conservatives: He led an insurgent charge from the right against House Speaker John Boehner and frequently clashed with the Bush administration over spending.
His profile as a fiscal and social conservative sparked speculation that he’d run for president for 2012. But the lifelong Hoosier instead returned home to run for governor.
Pence’s stock for vice president rose within Republican circles in recent days, largely because he seemed to check all the boxes for a Trump running mate: lifetime Republican, congressional and executive experience, along with an ability to parry and thrust. Though Pence is no brawler – like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, one of the other Trump potential running mates – he did the stint as a radio host.
Pence and his wife, Karen, a schoolteacher, have been married since 1985 and have three grown children: Michael, a Marine Corps officer, Charlotte, and Audrey.
He and Trump are far from a perfect fit. Pence endorsed rival Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, just days before the crucial Indiana primary, telling a local radio station, “I’m not against anybody, but I will be voting for Ted Cruz in the Republican primary.”
And Pence has had his differences with Trump, including criticizing Trump’s call to block Muslims from entering the country.
Pence is not well-known among the nation’s voters, and the campaign will need to move quickly to fill in the blanks. Pence seemingly began that on Friday, issuing a flurry of tweets boasting about his record as Indiana governor.
A McClatchy-Marist poll this week found Pence a blank slate to 56 percent of voters. Even in the Midwest, where he was elected to Congress and serves as governor, 58 percent of voters hadn’t heard of him.
Pence’s strongest backing was among tea party supporters, who favored him by 27 to 17 percent, according to the poll, and among conservatives who view him favorably by 19 to 14 percent.
Pence was elected governor of his native state in 2012 after serving 12 years in the House of Representatives.
There he gained a reputation for conservationism, leading a charge against President George W. Bush’s move to expand Medicare to cover prescription drugs and complaining about rising budget deficits under Republican rule.
He unsuccessfully ran an insurgency campaign from the right, challenging Boehner of Ohio for leadership of House Republicans after the party lost control of the chamber in 2006. Though he lost, he won the chairmanship of the House Republican Conference two years later, the third spot in the party’s leadership. He left Congress in 2011, mulling a run for the presidency – or the governor’s mansion.
He took himself out of the 2012 presidential race early, despite a solid standing among conservatives and a “draft Pence” movement that signaled that an independently financed ad campaign would help him in the primaries.
In Congress, he opposed the George W. Bush-era No Child Left Behind education law, the federal bailout of banks and Medicare Part D.
He was described in 2003 as a leader of Republican conservatives who had quarreled with leadership over efforts to keep spending bills within the budget caps. As part of that effort, he led a congressional effort that insisted that aid to Iraq be given as a loan, not a grant as the Bush administration had insisted.
Pence is also a social conservative, considered by anti-abortion rights groups a “pro-life trailblazer.” He led efforts in the House to pull funding from the health care organization Planned Parenthood and as governor, signed into law a bill that abortion foes say protects fetuses against discrimination.
Still, some conservatives say Pence lost his luster when he left the House to govern red-state Indiana.
“He gives Trump the veneer of conservatism without anyone ever having to worry that he’d actually fight for those principles,” conservative talk radio host Erick Erickson wrote this week on The Resurgent bashing Pence.
Pence came under fire last year from conservatives for seemingly backing away from his decision to sign the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a bill that supporters said would protect companies and individuals from government actions that would substantially burden religious practices.
Pence at the time suggested the bill mirrored a 1993 federal measure signed by President Bill Clinton, as well as laws in 19 other states, but critics called the Indiana law a license to discriminate.
Facing a backlash from inside the Hoosier State and nationwide, Pence signed a revised version of the bill that included language that the measure cannot be used to discriminate based on sexual orientation.
“Pence has shown that he lacks one of Trump’s most admirable qualities: the willingness to fight for what he believes in,” said conservative activist Richard Viguerie.
Pence’s re-election this year was no sure bet as Hoosiers chided him for clumsy handling of the religious freedom act. Polling in the state showed him with a lackluster job approval rating and some surveys had him tied with his opponent, Democratic former House Speaker John Gregg.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign called Pence the “most extreme VP pick in a generation,” noting that he was one of the earliest advocates for the tea party and that as governor he “personally spearheaded an anti-LGBT law that legalized discrimination against the LGBT community, alienated businesses, caused boycotts, lost investments and embarrassed Hoosiers.”