Pence 'very excited' to be Trump's No. 2 on the GOP ticket

Maureen Groppe
Star Washington Bureau
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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, arrived to meet with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York on Friday, July 15, 2016. Trump has chosen Pence as his running mate.

NEW YORK — Instead of a grand announcement, there were just a few words from Donald Trump’s new running mate.

“I’m very excited, very humbled and very grateful,” Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said Friday as he left his New York City hotel a few hours after the presumptive GOP nominee tweeted that Pence was his pick for vice president. “We love Indiana. We love our country. My family and I couldn’t be more honored to run with and serve with the next president of the United States.”

That was all Pence said in his first turn in the national spotlight since joining the GOP ticket.

As Pence and his family ducked into a waiting car, the disciplined communicator ignored the shouted questions of reporters:

“When did you know that Donald Trump was going to pick you?”

“Were you at all worried that Donald Trump would change his mind?"

“Did you see 'Hamilton' last night?”

Pence had flown to New Jersey on Thursday for what was to be a Friday announcement.

But Trump tweeted later Thursday that the event was postponed because of the attack in Nice, France, that claimed dozens of lives.

That led to speculation whether Trump was changing his mind about his No. 2.

National reporters camped out at the Indiana secretary of state’s office Friday morning to see whether Pence, who had been seeking re-election, would meet the noon deadline to withdraw as a gubernatorial candidate.

About an hour before the deadline, Trump tweeted that he had chosen Pence and would hold a news conference Saturday.

But that didn’t end the questions about the delay

CNN reported that Trump was so unsure about Pence, he asked his top aides late Thursday if he could change his mind.

Jason Miller, Trump's senior communications adviser, said in a tweet that Trump never hesitated after choosing Pence, a decision IndyStar was among the first to report.

Pence himself, when asked by Fox59 if he had a sense of whether there was any second-guessing, said only that he supported Trump's decision to postpone the announcement.

"I think it speaks well of his compassion," Pence said.

The clumsiness of the rollout seemed to harken back to the last time a Hoosier was selected as a presidential running mate. Like Dan Quayle in 1988, Pence is also relatively unknown nationally. That increases the importance of the first impressions the Trump campaign is offering of Pence.

Nearly 9 in 10 registered voters questioned in a CBS News/New York Times poll this month were undecided or didn’t know enough about Pence to have an opinion.

The campaign of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was quick to offer one. A top campaign official called Pence “the most extreme pick in a generation” for vice president.

And a Clinton campaign video launched Friday criticized Pence for his support of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act and for being willing, when he served in Congress, to shut down the federal government in 2011 in an unsuccessful attempt to defund Planned Parenthood.

Pence’s strong anti-abortion credentials were one of the reasons many conservatives praised his selection.

“Mike Pence spent 12 years in Congress leading the charge on conservative issues, including defunding Planned Parenthood,” said Penny Nance, head of Concerned Women for America.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said Trump could not have made a better choice. The anti-abortion group previously expressed concern over Trump as the GOP nominee.

Longtime conservative commentator Brent Bozell called Pence's selection a home run.

“This was a top priority for conservatives, and Trump came through in a smashing manner,” Bozell said.

How much Pence can help Trump attract voters — and donors — who have been wary of him has yet to be determined.

For example, the head of the conservative Club for Growth, whose political arm spent millions of dollars to try to prevent Trump from getting the nomination, is a longtime friend of Pence’s.

Former Rep. David McIntosh, who preceded Pence in his congressional district, heaped praise on Pence — including for his support of free trade agreements, which Trump has denounced. McIntosh said Trump’s pick gives hope that “Pence will be effective in pulling the Republican ticket toward economic conservatism and limited government.”

But that doesn’t mean the group will now advocate for Trump. Although Pence might make some members more inclined to consider the ticket, the group doesn’t plan to get involved in the race, said spokesman Doug Sachtleben.

Likewise, Pence’s ties to billionaire industrialist Charles Koch and his brother, David, are not enough to loosen those purse strings.

Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, the financial hub of the Koch brothers policy and political network, will “not engage” in the presidential race, said spokesman James Davis.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus called Pence "an experienced public servant and a solid conservative whose policies have led to the longest period of uninterrupted job growth in Indiana’s history.”

Pence also received praise from former congressional colleagues.

"Governor Mike Pence is an exceptional leader, and an even better man,” said former House Speaker John Boehner, whom Pence challenged for the top House Republican leadership job in 2006.

Boehner said Pence played a key role in helping Republicans take back the House after becoming chairman of the House Republican Conference in 2008.

"And with his heart, honesty and integrity," Boehner said, "he won the trust and respect of everyone with whom he served."

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who has called Pence a personal friend, said there was no better choice than his former colleague.

“Mike Pence comes from the heart of the conservative movement — and the heart of America.”

Although Pence was a strong fiscal and social conservative — and headed a group of the most conservative House Republicans in 2005 and 2006 — his affability helped him forge bonds with colleagues with milder views.

“I don’t think you’ll be able to find any personal enemies of Mike Pence. You’ll find people who disagree with him. But I don’t think you’ll find anyone who is going to say they got a bad deal from Mike Pence,” said Rep. Peter King, a moderate Republican from New York. “He’s a very opposite personality from Donald Trump.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, one of the other finalists for the vice president’s job, agreed.

Musing on Facebook about the vice presidential selection process Thursday, Gingrich said he suggested to Trump that adding him to the ticket would give him “two pirates.” Or he could put Pence on the ticket and have "a pirate and a relatively stable, more normal person.”

Trump chose Pence.

USA TODAY reporters Bart Jansen and Fredreka Schouten contributed to this story. 

Email Maureen Groppe at mgroppe@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter: @mgroppe.

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