Indiana Gov. Mike Pence appears to be the likely pick to be Donald Trump’s running mate, according to multiple media reports, though the presumptive Republican nominee’s campaign insisted a final decision had not been made and his top advisers told reporters he could still tap someone else.
Pence was among a handful of finalists that included former Georgia lawmaker Newt Gingrich, and is seen as an unwavering conservative who could spark enthusiasm among evangelical Republicans who remain skeptical of the free-wheeling real estate mogul.
The first-term governor is a former congressman who could offer Trump a sidekick with political experience and a more subdued alter ego to balance the real estate mogul’s brash persona. He is perhaps best known for his struggles over Indiana’s “religious liberty” legislation, which has also roiled Georgia politics.
Gingrich said Thursday he had not yet been informed of Trump’s decision while making a late pitch for himself as a candidate with “some appeal in virtually every state.”
Trump initially planned formal announcement on Friday at 11 a.m. in New York but announced Thursday afternoon he was postponing the news conference out of deference following the attack in Nice, France:
The Trump campaign pushed back on reports from Roll Call, CBS News, The Indianapolis Star and other outlets that he made up his mind. In an interview on Fox News on Thursday afternoon, Trump said “I haven’t made my final, final decision” on a running mate.
In Pence, Trump could find an effective fundraiser with close relationships to wealthy donors who have so far declined to back the businessman’s insurgent campaign, and an enthusiastic campaigner who can bridge the divide with a distrustful Washington establishment still smarting over their nominee’s say-anything style.
But he also carries significant baggage after a stormy term in office that has jeopardized his chances at re-election. Much of the backlash revolves around the national uproar after he supported a version of “religious liberty” legislation that prompted corporate giants and gay rights advocates to threaten a boycott.
Pence signed the measure into law, but lawmakers made changes to soften the language as businesses threatened to move and trade groups canceled their conventions. It echoed a similar debate in Georgia, where Gov. Nathan Deal earned praise from business groups – and vitriol from social conservatives – for his veto of legislation that would expand legal protections for opponents of gay marriage.
He also had to drop a plan to create a state-run news service after it was mocked by late-night TV hosts.
Pence was among a short list of other finalists that included Gingrich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. As Trump narrowed his choices, Gingrich intensified his jockeying, portraying himself as a fellow political revolutionary willing to upend the establishment.
While Trump did not confirm the reports, several members of his campaign suggested Pence was the pick. Trump Georgia campaign director Brandon Phillips was among the campaign operatives who tweeted his congratulations.
Georgia Republicans offered mixed reviews of Pence, divided between his appeal to conservatives and his relatively subdued national profile. Though he briefly considered campaigning for the White House last year, he is lesser known than Gingrich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who Trump said he was also considering for the No. 2 job.
“I just don’t think he’s the future of the party. I don’t think he’s inspirational,” said Jason Anavitarte, a Paulding County activist and delegate to next week’s convention in Cleveland. “And I don’t think he’ll instill confidence in Republicans who are wavering about Trump. A lot of social conservatives are still concerned, and I’m not sure this is enough.”
Other Georgia activists were heartened by Trump’s potential pick. W. John Wood, the chair of the Savannah-based First District GOP district, compared Pence to a legendary Hoosier State basketball icon.
“Just like Larry Bird, in the right situation he can become the stuff legends are made of,” said Wood. “And it gives a nod to the conservative members of the party that shows the Republican farm team is still alive.”
A former Democrat and analyst at a conservative think tank, Pence once described himself as “Rush Limbaugh on decaf” while working as a radio and TV host in the 1990s. After losing two Congressional campaigns in 1988 and 1990, he swore off negative campaigning and apologized to his rival for his sharp-elbowed attacks.
He eventually won office on a policy-focused campaign and in his 12 years in Congress he became a darling of evangelicals, calling himself “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican – in that order.”
He also won kudos – and made enemies – for defying Republican leaders by objecting to the No Child Left Behind education overhaul and other hallmarks of President George W. Bush’s policy agenda.
He was an early critic of Trump, tweeting his opposition to Trump’s call for a temporary ban on Muslim immigrants and his support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade alliance that the businessman has opposed. And he endorsed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz days before the Indiana primary, only to switch allegiances to Trump after his victory.
In recent weeks, though, he has enthusiastically cozied up to Trump, and met with him for hours Wednesday at his official residence to make clear he was willing to serve as his Veep.
“I think he is someone who has connected with everyday Americans like no one since Ronald Reagan,” Pence told reporters earlier this week. “I think he has spoken into the frustration and the longings of the American people as no one since the 40th president, and I think you’re going to continue to see him do that.”
Read more AJC coverage of Pence: