Greg Pence, the older brother of the vice president of the United States, is running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives that his brother Mike Pence once held, representing Indiana’s 6th District.
In many ways, Greg differs from Mike: He has no political experience, while Mike has served as a congressman and governor; Greg has hardly ever given interviews or made pre-announced public speeches, while his brother must do so regularly; Greg is Catholic, while his brother’s most committed constituency is his fellow evangelical Protestants.
But Greg emphasizes the close similarity between the pair: “I love my brother Michael and there is no daylight on issues between him and me,” the candidate, who rarely agrees to interviews and did not respond to messages from The Washington Post, wrote in an email to the Indianapolis Star. And Greg’s campaign seems to rest on the hope that the same white evangelical voters who are so fond of his brother will elect him to Congress.
Indiana’s 6th District covers the largely rural southwest corner of the state and suburban communities near the state borders, with the cities of Cincinnati to the east and Louisville to the south. Mike Pence held the seat for five terms, before becoming governor of Indiana in 2012 and vice president in 2016.
“It’s a familiar name, with some pride attached to it: being the home territory of the vice president of the United States,” said Marjorie Hershey, a political scientist at Indiana University. “Name recognition, whether it involves substantive awareness — you think this is a great family; you think Mike Pence is a great person — or a vague positive association, that can affect people’s votes.”
Mike Pence’s tenure as governor of Indiana was often defined by contentious fights over religious issues — including a controversial abortion law and a snarl over religious freedom vs. LGBT rights. Now, Greg Pence’s opponents have raised questions about where Greg stands on those issues — and the other candidates differ in their own approaches to religion in politics.
In the Republican primary Tuesday, Pence faces four other candidates; six Democrats are also running in their primary, and will face the Republican winner in November in a district where more than twice as many voted for President Trump than Hillary Clinton in 2016. None of the four men running against Pence has held political office before, either, and Pence’s fundraising dwarfs them all: He has raised nearly $1.2 million, according to Federal Election Commission data, compared with Jonathan Lamb’s $844,982 — mostly a loan from himself to his campaign — and the other candidates’ four- or five-figure totals.
According to the FEC, Greg Pence has personally contributed no funds to his campaign. Great America Committee, the PAC created by Mike Pence, contributed $5,400 to his brother — one of numerous high-profile PACs supporting Greg Pence.
The two most vocal opponents facing Pence in the race, Lamb and Stephen MacKenzie, accuse Pence of ducking discussion to coast on his family name and raise concerns about his troubled business record. But they talk about the religious issues that shaped Mike Pence’s reputation in Indiana very differently.
MacKenzie, a 53-year-old Air Force reservist and pastor’s son, peppers his own speech with constant references to his faith — much like the vice president, whose standard line in his many speeches declares, “I’m a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.”
Asked how he views his chances in Tuesday’s primary, MacKenzie responds: “I’m always an optimist. The way I was raised and also my faith dictates that.” Talking about Republicans who urged him to drop out of the race or refused to support him because they didn’t want to get on the vice president’s bad side, he suddenly changes the subject and says, “I was raised by my mother and my father to love my country and love God.” He quotes a book about missionaries murdered in Ecuador that he says has guided his life since high school, then says: “What I do is for my wife. We share our same passion for the Lord and for this country. This is what defines me.”
MacKenzie says he’ll bring that zeal, and the accompanying advocacy for conservative Christian priorities, including preventing abortions, to Congress. He paints Greg Pence as a businessman far less concerned with religious priorities.
“If you’ve spent any time with Greg, Greg is not Mike. That’s what people know who actually live here,” MacKenzie says. “Mike is a man of faith — no apologies about being a Christian conservative. Greg is the exact opposite. He doesn’t share the same faith, same values.”
Candidate Lamb, on the other hand, portrays Greg Pence as religious — and defines himself as predominantly a fiscal conservative, rather than a social conservative like the Pence brothers. “[Religion] was kind of a focal point his whole time as governor,” Lamb says about Mike Pence. “Before, we had a really strong fiscal conservative governor. Then Pence [focused on] social issues. I’m a fiscal conservative, 100 percent. I’m an economist. What I’m running on is: We have real problems.”
Lamb, 36, has made his opposition to Trump’s tariff policies a focal point of his campaign. And while Lamb opposes abortion, attends a nondenominational church and has a “Faith & Values” page on his website that says the United States should “use faith as a foundation in all that we do,” he scoffs gently at any candidate who sticks to the favorite topics of guns and abortion. “Family values are really important for our district,” he says. “Family values? What’s tearing us apart right now is drugs.”
Lamb argues that Greg Pence isn’t taking tricky questions on how to handle the opioid and meth crises in the district, or whether Trump’s aggressive approach to trade will hurt Indiana agricultural and manufacturing businesses. “He doesn’t do interviews. He just largely goes on about the Republican platform: pro-life, pro-guns, pro-military. Bread-and-butter issues. He doesn’t take a position, really, on anything. We don’t know how we differ, because he’s refused to debate me. We’ve had debates and forums, and he has declined every opportunity. Voters don’t know how he feels. That’s the sad truth.”
Greg Pence himself has said little in response, leaving it up to his opponents to characterize him so differently.
His longtime priest at St. Bartholomew in Columbus, Ind., the Rev. Clement Davis, said Greg Pence is indeed deeply committed to his religion and attends Mass weekly, sometimes more than once a week. But Davis, who has known the extended Pence family for years, was surprised when Greg Pence decided to run for office.
He said he doesn’t always agree politically with Greg Pence, but he spoke highly of his character. “He’s an excellent people person. He listens to people. He’s not strident. … He’s a measured individual who weighs his words. He’s considerate, thoughtful. He has opinions. He’ll state them clearly. He’s not someone who puts people down,” his priest said. “I’ve never heard him be anything other than a gentleman.”
Chad Kinsella, a political scientist at Ball State University who lives in the district, said that the anti-Catholic sentiment that was once prevalent among Indiana Protestants has died away, much as elsewhere in the country. Today, Indiana evangelicals are likely to believe that a conservative Catholic candidate shares their values.
Kinsella said he has seen only one Pence sign anywhere; Lamb signs seem to plaster the roadside. Students in Kinsella’s department are volunteering for Lamb, whereas when it comes to Pence: “He’s kind of running almost an underground campaign. Nobody’s seen or heard from him.”
But Kinsella thinks Pence will win out. “With his name recognition, I can’t see a way that he would lose.”