There was a lot of this going around. Three months ago, Pence was somewhat well known as the right-wing congressman who had become a right-wing governor of Indiana, and stumbled with a hasty "religious liberty" bill that alienated pro-LGBT businesses. In the all-encompassing fog of the presidential race, however, Pence had become a "bland" sort of complement to Trump, less unpopular, more typically Republican. In some races, the vice-presidential nominees become controversial. In 2016, there was no way that the bottom-half of the ticket could outshine the top. Pre-debate spin has portrayed the contest between Pence and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) as a sort of sleep aid, between two equals.
Progressive organizations, distracted like most of the country, have tried to correct this by rounding on Pence. In a statement today, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards asked reporters to remember that Pence had been the "first member of Congress to try to defund Planned Parenthood." The Sierra Club, like the HRC, had thrown a little money into a campaign to brand Pence as just as extreme as Trump.
And on Monday, during a campaign stop in Toledo, Hillary Clinton had asked voters to stage an "intervention" with their Ohio friends and remind them how wrong Pence had been about the auto crisis in 2008 and 2009. Clinton previewed a possible route of attack for Kaine by branding Pence as an "ardent opponent of the auto rescue."
This was true. At the time, as a congressman from a safe red seat, Pence opposed every bailout vote, and said in one statement that "the American people know we can’t borrow and spend and bail our way back to a growing economy or a healthy domestic automotive industry." He had proposed a means-tested Social Security reform. He had supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Iraq War.
What worried progressives was that voters, paying attention to the vice-presidential candidates for the first time, might not hear about this. In an errantly released news release about the debate, written as if the debate had already happened, the Republican National Committee said that Pence was the "clear winner" of the future event because he had focused on "highlighting Hillary's scandals" and the economy.
In a short trip to the Longwood University spin room, Clinton's campaign manager Robby Mook also framed the debate as a test of whether Pence could answer for Trump.
"He's going to have to answer for whether he can defend Donald Trump's attacks against a former Miss Universe; whether he can defend Donald Trump's failure to pay taxes," Mook said.
Only after a few more questions about Pence himself did Mook change targets.
"Pence has taken a number of extreme positions," he said.