Metro Weekly

Indiana Dems: Pence could make debate gaffe if he defends extreme positions

GOP VP candidate attacked over social issues, particularly support of his state's RFRA law


Mike Pence – Photo: Gage Skidmore

In an effort to get in a few punches prior to Tuesday night’s vice presidential debate, a pair of Indiana Democrats familiar with Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence, forewarned reporters that the Indiana governor can be goaded into making a serious gaffe during the course of the debate.

“He is certainly capable of being boring. But one thing that those of us in Indiana know about Mike Pence is that he’s capable of a gaffe that follows doubling down on an extreme position,” Indiana House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath said in a conference call organized by the Democratic National Committee.

“Mike Pence does not think very deeply about his convictions, and when those extreme positions are exposed to a national audience, he frequently has the capability of saying something that will make headlines,” Pelath continued. “And it will make headlines for the wrong reason. … It’s not that difficult to puncture the ‘nice guy’ demeanor.”

Pelath appeared on the conference call with Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody, with the two working in tandem to “rough up” Pence prior to his mounting the debate stage in Farmville, Va. The two men sought to capitalize on what they call Pence’s “mishandling” of the economy, his overzealous opposition to abortion, and his decision to sign Indiana’s RFRA law, which allows discrimination against LGBT people under the guise of religious freedom, into effect.

“Tonight, Mike Pence is going to have to stand by Donald Trump and defend Trump’s indefensible rhetoric and policies,” Zody said. “He’s also going to have to defend his own disastrous tenure as governor. Lots of Hoosiers already know that he’s knocked our state way off course over the last four years, but we want to make sure voters across the country get a good look at his bad record before letting him anywhere near the White House. … He has governed with an ideological agenda that has divided Hoosiers and left us lagging behind the rest of the nation.”

A significant amount of the criticism of Pence focused on his decision to sign the RFRA law, the accomplishment for which he is most known to most casual political observers and those outside the Hoosier state. But Zody and Pelath appeared to be foreshadowing the idea that LGBT issues would be raised — ostensibly by Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.) — in the course of the debate. But Kaine’s record is not spotless, either: in a speech to attendees of the Human Rights Campaign’s National Dinner, he admitted he was not always supportive of LGBT rights, particularly when it came to same-sex marriage. He has since changed his views on that issue, as has his running mate, Hillary Clinton.

Nonetheless, the Indiana Democrats were eager to keep the spotlight on Pence’s deficiencies.

“Pence’s backwards social agenda was always been priority number one, all while Indiana’s economy and the middle class continued to fall further and further behind,” Pelath said. “He must have had his eyes on a presidential run, because he started padding his conservative credentials by signing RFRA. He certainly wasn’t working to grow our economy. Instead, he ignored warnings from businesses like Salesforce, and he made it perfectly legal for businesses to discriminate against the LGBT community. So now LGBT Hoosiers could be refused service at restaurants, denied housing, fired from their jobs. As some Hoosiers put it, the law made it so you could get married on Saturday and fired for it on Monday.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at

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