Donald Trump has chosen Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his vice presidential running mate, a source with direct knowledge confirms to NPR’s Mara Liasson.
Even with sources and multiple news organizations reporting Pence has been offered the job, Trump called into Fox News Thursday night and said he hasn’t “made my final, final decision.” He underscored that the two other finalists, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, were still in the mix, calling both of them “fantastic” people.
But Pence is the only one who has a clock ticking. He cannot run for both re-election as governor and for vice president, and he must withdraw by noon Friday so that the state party can replace him on the ballot.
Pence would give Trump a younger, conservative favorite to help heal the rift within the Republican Party and ease the minds of many still skeptical of the presumptive presidential nominee.
The Indiana governor emerged as a front-runner in the past week, with many of Trump’s advisers reportedly liking what the 57-year-old would bring to the ticket. He’s a more cautious, less-flashy choice over Gingrich and Christie. He won’t run the risk of overshadowing Trump and could help him appeal to disaffected conservatives and evangelical voters.
Having served at both the state and federal levels, Pence also has the political experience Trump has said he is looking for to help him navigate Washington. A House member for 12 years, Pence was elected governor in 2012. Before entering politics, he was a conservative talk radio host and hosted a Sunday political TV show in Indianapolis. He was also president of a conservative think tank in the state, the Indiana Policy Review Foundation.
Pence has been praised for helping revive Indiana’s economy — an argument he can make on the stump with Trump. When he took office, the state’s jobless rate was at 20 percent, per CNBC; it has now fallen to 5 percent.
He became a born-again Christian in college and has talked about how his faith drives his politics, saying he is “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.”
In 2015, he signed into law a controversial religious freedom bill, which spurred wide backlash and fears it would enable LGBT discrimination. Many state businesses — including the NCAA, which was readying to hold the Final Four there — said they reconsidered deals and investments.
Pence later signed a revision he said would prevent such LGBT discrimination, but many religious conservatives faulted him for bending to political pressure. Earlier this week, Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, told NBC News that he believed Trump could “do better” with a pick “who has not capitulated on something as fundamental as religious freedom.”
Even though Pence initially endorsed Ted Cruz ahead of his state’s May 3 primary, his blessing for the Texas senator was lukewarm — he had also praised Trump. He endorsed Trump shortly after he won his state — a win that effectively ended the GOP primary after Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich dropped out.
Trump campaigned with Pence in Indiana this week, and the governor was the only one of the three finalists who introduced Trump to the crowd.
“Donald Trump gets it. Donald Trump hears the voice of the American people,” Pence boasted, adding that, “We are ready to put a fighter, a builder and a patriot in the Oval Office of the United States of America.” He followed up on that appearance with tweets supportive of Trump.
The two appeared to get along well, and Trump teased the crowd in Westfield, Ind., “I don’t know if he’s going to be your governor or your vice president, who the hell knows!”
Pence was already locked in a tough rematch with former State House Speaker John Gregg, in part owing to his falling standing in the state after the religious freedom law controversy.
Republicans can replace him on the ballot. According to the Indianapolis Star, potential replacements include Lt. Gov Eric Holcomb and Rep. Susan Brooks. Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma and Rep. Todd Rokita have already signaled their interest.