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5 Things To Know About Mike Pence Before Tuesday's Debate

Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence attends the Presidential Debate at Hofstra University on Sept. 26 in Hempstead, N.Y.
Win McNamee
Getty Images
Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence attends the Presidential Debate at Hofstra University on Sept. 26 in Hempstead, N.Y.

This post was updated Oct. 1 at 10:19 a.m.

Last Monday, the first presidential debate was the most-watched debate ever. A little more than a week later, the Hillary Clinton's and Donald Trump's vice presidential picks will take the stage.

Trump running mate Mike Pence will debate Clinton running mate Tim Kaine Tuesday night at Longwood University in Farmville, Va. Unlike the people at the top of the tickets, Pence and Kaine are relatively unknown to voters.

On the Republican side, Pence has been governor of Indiana since 2013. Before that, he served six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has called Pence a "good movement conservative" and considers him a good friend. "I've very high regard for him," Ryan said when Pence was chosen as Trump's running mate, an indicator that putting Pence on the ticket might have been an olive branch from the Trump campaign to more traditional conservatives.

Here are five other things to know about Gov. Pence ahead of Tuesday's debate:

1. "A Christian, a conservative, and a Republican — in that order"

Pence is a born-again Christian — he became one in college — and has put his religion in the foreground of his political persona.

"For me it all begins with faith. It begins with what matters most, and I try and put what I believe to be moral truth first. My philosophy of government second. And my politics third," Pence said in a 2010 appearance on the Christian Broadcasting Network.

And religion has indeed played a large part in his policy decisions.

One notable example is his strong opposition to abortion. While serving in the House in 2011, he introduced an amendment to defund Planned Parenthood because the women's health organization provides abortion services.

This March, as governor of Indiana, Pence signed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. The law bans abortions due to fetal abnormalities and also requires aborted fetuses — and those from miscarriage — to be buried or cremated.

Women in Indiana protested the law by calling or tweeting at the governor's office to tell him about their periods, in an effort dubbed "Periods For Pence."

2. "Rush Limbaugh on decaf"

Trump and Pence, while different in temperament, have something in common: both men have hosted TV shows.

In the 1990s, Pence hosted a Sunday TV show in Indianapolis and also had a radio talk show called The Mike Pence Show. He described himself as "Rush Limbaugh on decaf," meaning while a conservative, he was not as bombastic as the popular Limbaugh, who hosts his own talk show.

On his show, Pence discussed the week's news and also his conservative values. In a video from 1997 published this year by Politico, Pence discussed Kelly Flinn, who was the country's first female B-52 pilot. She had just been discharged from the Air Force for disobeying an order to end an affair and for lying under oath about doing so.

On the show, Pence discussed the "normalization of adultery" and "whether or not it was time to rethink this whole business of women in the military."

3. "Confessions of a negative campaigner"

After losing early campaigns for Congress, Pence wrote an essay apologizing for running negative ads against an opponent, Rep. Phillip Sharp. The Indianapolis Star has reported Pence "swore off harsh political tactics." In the essay, Pence called for "basic human decency."

In July, Pence and Trump sat down for a joint interview on CBS' 60 Minutes. Interviewer Lesley Stahl asked Pence how he felt about some of Trump's attacks on his opponents, specifically referencing "Lyin' Ted," Trump's nickname for his last-standing primary opponent, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Pence replied:

"In the essay that I wrote a long time ago, I said campaigns ought to be about something more important than just one candidate's election. And... and this campaign and Donald Trump's candidacy has been about the issues the American people care about."

Trump added that the two men are different people and he doesn't ask Pence to be negative.

"It's probably obvious to people that our styles are different. But I promise you, our vision is exactly the same," Pence added.

4. He gained notoriety for the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In 2015, he signed into law a controversial "religious freedom" bill, which spurred wide backlash. Critics said the bill could allow business owners to ban LGBT customers based on a claim of religious freedom.

After "business, civic and sports leaders ... strongly called for a fix to the legislation," USA Today noted, Pence later signed a revised version of the law.

But Pence appeared to back the bill in an interview on Fox in March 2015.

"Well let me say first and foremost, I stand by this law," he said. "But I understand that the way that some on the left, and frankly some in the national media, have mischaracterized this law over the last week might make it necessary for us to clarify the law through legislation. And we were working through the day and into the night last night with legislative leaders to consider ways to do that."

5. He supported the Iraq War.

Although his running mate has denied his own early support of the Iraq War, Pence was in Congress at the time and voted in favor of authorizing the use of force in Iraq.

In a 2002 interview with CNN leading up to the vote, Pence emphasized that there was "overwhelming evidence... to suggest a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda," which ended up not being the case.

When Trump was asked for his opinion on Pence's 2002 vote on 60 Minutes, he answered, "He's entitled to make a mistake every once in awhile."

When Pence was asked on Fox News this year about the vote, he said, "I think that's for historians to debate. I supported President Bush's decision to go into Iraq, as well as to go into Afghanistan. I traveled downrange for 10 years in a row to visit our soldiers in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. I stood strongly through both of them."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Meg Anderson
Meg Anderson is an editor on NPR's Investigations team, where she shapes the team's groundbreaking work for radio, digital and social platforms. She served as a producer on the Peabody Award-winning series Lost Mothers, which investigated the high rate of maternal mortality in the United States. She also does her own original reporting for the team, including the series Heat and Health in American Cities, which won multiple awards, and the story of a COVID-19 outbreak in a Black community and the systemic factors at play. She also completed a fellowship as a local reporter for WAMU, the public radio station for Washington, D.C. Before joining the Investigations team, she worked on NPR's politics desk, education desk and on Morning Edition. Her roots are in the Midwest, where she graduated with a Master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.
Domenico Montanaro
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.