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He could be your next VP: Who is Mike Pence?

Get to know the governor of Indiana
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Posted at 12:02 AM, Jul 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-19 02:29:45-04

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana Governor Mike Pence could be the next vice president of the United States – but what do you really know about him?

Maybe you're not from Indiana and this is your first time hearing his name. Maybe he popped onto your radar briefly during the RFRA debate, and you want to know more. Maybe you're from Indiana, but you just haven't been paying attention.

Regardless, if you want to know more about Mike Pence, look no further.

We've boiled down the most important points of Pence's political career since he first ran for office in 1988. Read on below:

A social conservative's social conservative

Mike Pence is fond of saying he's "a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order" – and his legislative history as a congressman and Indiana's governor backs that up. Pence has dedicated his political career to fighting for a strong, socially conservative agenda. Voters in Indiana saw that firsthand in 2015 when Pence signed the contentious Religious Freedom Restoration Act, despite opposition from otherwise typical allies in the state's business community. Concerns that the law would legalize discrimination against LGBTQ people were eventually quelled by an amendment to the law – but not before it cost the state an estimated $60 million in convention revenue. To "movement conservatives," though, Pence is a stalwart of the political right. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate President Mitch McConnell both praised Trump's choice of Pence as a running mate, and even other contenders for Trump's VP pick gave Pence high marks. As a governor, Pence ticked off a number of conservative legislative boxes: he pushed through legislation to cut personal income taxes; expanded charter schools; and passed restrictions on abortion (although federal courts have since blocked the most recent law, finding it's likely unconstitutional).

MORE | Gov. Pence signs Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law in closed-door ceremony | Mike Pence's 1999 anti-'Mulan' op-ed is a rant against women in combat | New restrictions on chemical abortions signed into law | Pence defends, then apologizes for deleting pro-same-sex marriage FB comments | Pence signs law banning private insurance coverage of abortion | Pence suddenly pulls state out of contention for $80 million federal pre-K grant

Reformed negative campaigner

Mike Pence made his first run for Congress at the age of 28 – just two years after graduating law school. He lost that election to incumbent Democrat Rep. Phil Sharp. He ran again in 1990, this time quitting his job to work full-time on the campaign. Pence was condemned when it came out that he was using political donations to pay the mortgage on his house and his personal credit card bill – but it was his negative campaigning, including an ad in which an actor with a faux-Middle Eastern accent thanked his opponent for keeping the U.S. reliant upon Middle Eastern oil, that really changed him. After again losing the election, Pence took a job as the president of the free-market think tank Indiana Policy Review Foundation, where he wrote a political mea culpa titled "Confessions of a Negative Campaigner" in which he swore it off once and for all. Read a transcript of "Confessions of a Negative Campaigner."

'Rush Limbaugh on decaf'

After his stint with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, Pence spent nearly a decade as a conservative radio host, describing himself as "Rush Limbaugh on decaf." Pence, who often cites Ronald Reagan as his political role model, says he's "a conservative ... but I'm not angry about it." His generally mild-mannered demeanor and aversion to negative campaigning is a stark contrast to Donald Trump, his bombastic running mate who has demonstrated a willingness to delve into personal attacks against political opponents.

The Koch Brothers hate Donald Trump … but like Mike Pence

… but that still probably won't get the Kochs to support Trump. Billionaire David Koch told Fortune Magazine earlier this month that choosing between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was like choosing between "cancer or a heart attack." On the flip side, David Koch donated $100,000 personally to Pence's re-election campaign this year. Pence has also received $3 million from the Republican Governor's Association, whose largest donor is Koch Industries ($2 million so far this year). Pence's deputy chief of staff, Matt Lloyd, also worked as president of the Koch-affiliated Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce before returning to work with Pence. Nevertheless, NPR and other outlets have reported the Koch Brothers remain firm in their opposition to Trump, telling NPR after Trump picked Pence as his running mate that, "We are not engaging in the presidential. Our focus will remain on the Senate."

If Donald Trump is the outsider candidate, Pence is his inside man

Donald Trump – a billionaire real estate mogul who has never held elected office – has run his campaign as the ultimate Washington outsider. He frequently rails against corruption in government and the "rigged system" – even bashing the Republican establishment. His running mate, on the other hand, is about as establishment as they come. Pence served 12 years in Congress, eventually rising to the third-highest leadership position among House Republicans. He mounted a bid to lead the House Republican Caucus, but was defeated by Rep. John Boehner, of Ohio. Pence has also enthusiastically supported previously orthodox Republican positions that Trump has campaigned against – notably among them the Iraq War and free trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

MORE | Trump defends Pence's support of Iraq War | On key issues, Trump and Pence often disagree | Pence, 13 other governors send pro-TPP letter to Obama

'A better idealist than a careerist'

That's how writer Craig Fehrman, who profiled then-incoming Gov. Mike Pence for Indianapolis Monthly in 2013, described the Republican in an article for Slate. Sahil Kapur found "a thin record in the House" in a piece for Bloomberg on Pence's achievements in Congress; noting that Pence introduced 90 standalone bills during his 12 years, and of those, only 21 "simple resolutions" passed. As governor, Pence was able to achieve some of his top legislative priorities – notably personal income and business tax cuts – but often found himself bogged down amid contentious debates over his positions on same-sex marriage, abortion and LGBTQ rights. Pence's attempt to ban Syrian refugee resettlement in Indiana was dismantled by a federal judge, who called it "utterly ineffective" and "unconstitutional discrimination." Pence urged fellow Republicans to settle the same-sex marriage debate once and for all with an amendment to the state's constitution – until the Supreme Court made the question moot. And the state's newest abortion law, which Pence threw his support behind, has been blocked by a federal judge on constitutional grounds following a lawsuit by the ACLU and Planned Parenthood.

MORE | Timeline: The governorship of Mike Pence | Pence declares 'great victory' in 5% tax cut | Pence signs major package of business tax cuts into law | Hoosier Republicans aren't keen of proposal to let Pence run for president and governor | Plans scrapped for state-run news service "Just IN" | Indiana Chamber of Commerce expresses worries, disagreement over proposed religious freedom law