INDIANAPOLIS | Despite a recent poll finding a majority of Hoosiers want him gone, Gov. Mike Pence is confident his record on job growth, education reform, workforce training and health policy will help him win a second term.
Speaking to some 800 Republicans who each paid $150 to attend, Pence announced Thursday he is running for re-election and declared he is prepared to take on all comers — "This is going to be a fight and I'm ready," he said.
"As much as our opponents want to dwell on the past, elections are about the future and I believe our party must focus on the hopes and aspirations of the future of the people of this state," Pence said. "We're not going to allow liberals and special interests in Washington to undo all we've accomplished together."
Pence enthused in noting that since he took office in 2013, Indiana's unemployment rate has declined more than 3 percent, student test scores and graduation rates are up, businesses are investing in the state, the abortion rate is declining and low-income Hoosiers have better access to health care through the Healthy Indiana Plan.
But the governor warned Indiana risks losing all that if Hoosiers make the mistake of going "back to the days of stagnation, deficits and higher taxes," instead of choosing "policies that empower Hoosiers."
"I have a vision that the state of Indiana can take our rightful place as the leading state in the Midwest and a beacon of freedom, inspiring our neighbors and our nation by our example," Pence said.
During his 15-minute speech, Pence only hinted at the statewide, national and international furor prompted by his March 26 signing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which many Hoosiers believe licensed discrimination against homosexuals.
He dismissed the RFRA outrage as a ploy by "liberal special interests," even though a recent Republican-sponsored public opinion poll found 52 percent of Hoosiers disagree with how Pence handled that situation and 54 percent believe it's time Indiana elect a new governor.
"The only poll that really matters is going to happen in November of 2016," Pence said.
Outside the banquet hall, about 75 Hoosier Democrats holding "Fire Mike Pence" signs ignored occasional downpours to protest what they claimed is the governor's habit of putting conservative ideology above the needs of Hoosier families.
House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said Pence can talk all he wants about his record, but Hoosiers know their wages aren't keeping up with other Americans, Indiana's economic growth is lowest in the Midwest and local schools need a break from his so-called reforms.
"The problem is not just that a leader has tried a set of policies and failed," Pelath said. "The problem is that we have a leader who does not even recognize that we have problems."
Pence so far is running unopposed for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, though there are rumblings a primary opponent may yet emerge.
Three Democrats are vying to challenge him: former House Speaker John Gregg, who narrowly lost to Pence in 2012; Glenda Ritz, the state superintendent of public instruction; and state Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes.