Mike Pence is clinging to political life: "Religious freedom" backlash could spell doom for Indiana's right-wing governor

Once considered a relatively safe bet for re-election, Pence is now in very real danger of losing his job next year

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published June 17, 2015 6:31PM (EDT)

Mike Pence                      (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
Mike Pence (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

Indiana Republican Governor Mike Pence is expected to announce his bid for reelection this week, but the erstwhile rumored presidential hopeful has seen his popularity in the state erode following widespread backlash to his failed attempt to enshrine discrimination into law under the guise of religious-freedom.

New polling shows Pence with favorable ratings from just 34 percent of voters in his state, compared with 43 percent who view him unfavorably.

Pollster Christine Matthews credited Pence's contentious handling of a so-called "religious-freedom" bill that aimed to allow private businesses a legal avenue to discriminate against same-sex couples who offended their religious sensibilities. Matthews argued "that even though RFRA is no longer making headlines, it has not been forgotten. This may be one of those situations where a sleeping giant has been kicked and is now wide awake."

A poll taken late last year had Pence with a 62 percent approval rating.

Less than three months ago, after massive public protests and objections from the corporate community, Pence was forced to clarify that the law granting business owners protections to refuse service to gay couples on religious grounds would not actually be used to discriminate.

Now, Pence's popularity has slid and his likely challengers are gaining ground. According to the National Journal, "the survey shows Pence running neck and neck with two Democratic candidates: State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz (42 percent to 42 percent) and Pence's 2012 opponent, former Indiana State House Speaker John Gregg (40 percent to 41 percent)."

This latest polling follows a Human Rights Campaign poll from April which showed a similarly dangerous slide for the Hoosier state executive.

Pence's position not only has left him out-of-sync with voters but with some of his fellow Indiana lawmakers who've moved away from the staunch social conservative stance to embrace their fellow Hoosiers. Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican, served as grand marshal of the annual pride parade and festival this weekend, while South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg came out in a moving essay yesterday.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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Discrimination Gov. Mike Pence Indiana Lgbt Polls Religious Freedom Bills