INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Gov. Mike Pence launched his re-election campaign Thursday night by taking a defiant stance against critics of the state’s new religious objections law that battered his image as a national star among conservatives.
Pence told the crowd at a state Republican Party fundraising dinner that he doesn’t tolerate discrimination against anyone – an attack he’s faced from critics who maintain the law is anti-gay and led to a social media-driven storm of protests.
“Hoosiers also know that in the changing tides of popular culture there must be room for faith,” Pence said. “We will find our way forward as a state that respects the dignity and worth of every individual, and we will ensure that no government intervention, no government coercion will interfere with the freedom of conscience and the freedom of religion.”
The uproar over the law that Pence signed in March has given Democrats hope of ending a 12-year Republican hold on the state’s top office.
The 56-year-old Pence championed social issues during 12 years in Congress but largely avoided them during his 2012 campaign and early in his governorship. He had been seen by in GOP circles as someone who could unite the party’s religious and business wings, and stoked talk of a White House run with speeches to prominent conservative groups and trips overseas.
Those prospects faded when he signed the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, touching off national criticism including from prominent business leaders, entertainers and sports figures.
The Republican-dominated Legislature quickly revised the law to limit its use in sexual orientation matters. But the fallout prompted Indiana to hire a New York public relations firm to help rebuild its image.
Article continues belowA poll in April found Pence’s approval rating at only 45 percent, and he’s faced persistent criticism from both business officials and social conservatives for his handling of the issue.
Pence said in his speech that he bears some responsibility for the uproar, but that it was spurred by liberal special interests.
“If you can’t tell already, this is going to be a fight and I’m ready,” Pence said of his campaign for a second four-year term.