After weeks of intrigue, and less than a day before his Friday morning vice presidential announcement in New York, Donald Trump’s most likely running mate is reportedly Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, R.
Pence was among the safer choices on Trump’s short list, in part because there were few options more different than Trump himself. The governor is a well-known and generally well-liked figure in Republican circles. He’s been in public office since 2000, most of that time in Congress. And he’s got social conservative cred that could shore up support for the ticket among evangelicals who are wary of Trump.
Here’s what you need to know about him:
1. Yes, he’s that guy from the last year’s religious freedom debate
Pence was already well known and respected in Republican circles when he was elected governor of Indiana in 2012. But he became a household name when he signed a religious freedom bill into law in 2015. Pence said it would extend legal protections to religious Indiana business owners who don’t want to participate in same sex weddings – but opponents argued he was sanctioning discrimination.
The law got so much attention that at the 2015 White House Correspondents Dinner, President Barack Obama joked he and Vice President Joe Biden were so close that “in some places in Indiana, they won’t serve us pizza anymore.”
After a week of taking heat from Democrats, LGBT activists, corporate America and the NBA, Pence signed a revised version saying it’s not okay to use it to discriminate against gay people. But that didn’t quell activists’ criticism of the law, nor did it boost Pence’s tanking approval ratings.
2. He’s a social conservative
Pence is a devout evangelical Christian who regularly talks about his faith. (He likes describes himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.”) This spring, Pence signed into law one of the strictest abortion laws in the nation. Indiana is now the second state in the nation to ban abortions because the fetus has a disability, a law likely to be challenged in court.
But not all social conservatives are thrilled with Pence right now: Some thought he backed off last year’s religious freedom debate under pressure from liberal groups.
3. He’s facing a competitive reelection race
At least: he was. Pence will have to drop out of his reelection bid now if he becomes Trump’s vice presidential nominee – which may be a good thing for him, given the religious freedom debate did Pence no favors in his reelection bid. Sensing an opportunity in a state that’s been trending red lately, Democrats re-recruited businessman John Gregg, who has described himself as a “gun-totin,’ Bible-quotin,’ Southern Indiana Democrat.” Pence and Gregg have matched up against each other before: Gregg lost to Pence in 2012 by 3.2 percentage points in an election in which Pence failed to get 50 percent of the vote. The race made our list of top five seats most likely to flip.
4. He was an early advocate for the tea party movement
One of Pence’s former advisers told NBC that even before the 2010 summer of discontent between conservatives and the establishment, Pence was tuned into the populist strain of the party. While in Congress, he voted against big spending bills that the tea party would come to loathe.
5. He endorsed Ted Cruz for president
The political world’s eyes were again on Pence this spring when his state had the potential to determine the winner of the Republican presidential primary. Pence came under scrutiny for being unusually quiet about who he’d support, a reflection of how the primary divided the populist strain of the Republican Party and its leaders. Four days before the primary, he finally, somewhat half-heartedly said he’d be voting for Ted Cruz. But Pence tried to tack on a political insurance policy in case Trump won the state by adding: “I’m not against anybody,” which may not have been the boldest pronouncement, but certainly seems to have been the most politically savvy.
Trump did win Indiana by almost 20 percentage points. Cruz dropped out that night, and Pence said he’d support Trump as the nominee.
6. Paul Ryan likes him
Before becoming governor of Indiana in 2013, Pence spent six terms in Congress, where he served on committees that dealt with foreign affairs and technology and was generally well-liked and respected by his colleagues. Over time, he smoothed out his populist, tea party edges and rose to some of the highest ranks in the party. In 2008, his colleagues elected him to the House GOP’s No. 3 spot, Republican Conference Chairman, a job dedicated to shaping the party’s messaging after it got slammed in the 2008 elections.(Republicans took back the House in 2010.)
Pence seems to have maintained his ties on Capitol Hill after leaving it. This week, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Pence is a “personal friend.”
And before he came to Congress, Pence hosted a talk radio show, calling himself “Rush Limbaugh on decaf.”
7. He once challenged John Boehner for his party’s leadership spot in the House
Pence may have harbored dreams of being House speaker himself. In 2006, while Republicans were still in the minority, Pence decided to run for the leader of the party against a guy named John Boehner. It didn’t go so well. Pence, who positioned himself as the conservative in the race, lost in a vote among fellow House Republicans 168-27.
8. He’s long been viewed as a potential presidential candidate
In 2010, conservative activists at a Values Voter Summit voted Pence their top choice for a 2012 presidential candidate, a key test of grassroots support (but not one that’s necessarily indicative of success). Interestingly, Pence’s 2016 veep competition, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was also on that straw poll and came in fourth.
Pence’s name was floated in 2008 too as a potential presidential contender. Pence decided to stay in Indiana and run for governor, where he eeked out a win against Gregg.
9. He’s got ties to the Koch brothers
The billionaire brothers have so far stayed out of the presidential race, a sign they’re no fans of Trump. But their 2016 involvement could change with Pence by Trump’s side: The resumes of several of Pence’s top aides also include stints with the Koch brothers’ vast corporate and political networks.
10. He grew up as a Democrat
And idolizing John F. Kennedy. Pence told CBN News in a 2010 interview “It may be that I grew up in a big Irish Catholic family like he did. Maybe it was that my grandparents were so proud of the first Irish Catholic president.” He even still has a box of Kennedy paraphernalia.