For the Tribune
It was the biggest night in Mike Pence’s long political life, and his close-knit Columbus family was right in the middle of it.
Friends and other supporters from Gov. Pence’s hometown shared his joy on becoming the vice president-elect of the United States early Wednesday from their television-lit living rooms.
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But Pence family members were in the thick of things in middle of New York. About 16 of them traveled to be with Gov. Pence at Donald Trump’s Election Night headquarters at the Hilton Midtown hotel in Manhattan.
It was similar to four years ago after Pence won his first and only term as Indiana’s governor.
Big event. Big family. Big celebration.
Pence, 57, enjoyed his first political victory in 2000 when he earned the first of six terms in Congress.
He stepped away from Congress to run for governor in his home state four years ago, defeating Democrat John Gregg. The Pence family gathered then, too, on election night — inside a suite at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
From his modest roots in the family’s original Columbus home — at 2744 31st St. in the Everroad Park West subdivision, which the Pences moved into a few months before Mike’s June 7, 1959, birth — another address now looms on the near horizon: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, D.C.
That’s the White House, from where Pence will work as vice president starting in January.
Rooted in family
Mike Pence’s parents came from humble origins in Chicago.Nancy Cawley Pence’s father arrived in the United States from Ireland through Ellis Island. He was a bus driver in Chicago. The father of the late Ed Pence worked in the Chicago stockyards.
And today, the world knows about Mike Pence and his political journey.
“The feeling for him was one of (being) proud, but yet that America won (Tuesday) night,” said sister-in-law Denise Pence, one of the family members in New York.
The family entourage included Mike Pence’s wife, Karen, and two of their three children, Michael and Charlotte, daughter Audrey was overseas, mother, Nancy Pence Fritsch, all five siblings, Gregory, Edward, Thomas, Annie and Mary, and other close relatives.
Denise Pence said that after Trump’s acceptance speech early Wednesday, which she described as wonderful, Mike Pence located and hugged family members.
“He seemed very calm, very confident and very thrilled,” she said of her brother-in-law. “It was a great win — phenomenal.”
Mike Pence had a little time with the family before joining Trump to monitor election returns earlier Tuesday evening, grabbing a bite of food in Gregory and Denise Pence’s hotel room, she said.
As family members and many Trump/Pence supporters watched election results in the hotel ballroom, Denise Pence said people were on “pins and needles” waiting to learn whether Trump or Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton had won Florida, a key state for both.
“We were waiting forever,” she said.
Trump won a close race in Florida, and also won states such as Ohio and Wisconsin that recently had opted for the Democratic presidential nominee. Denise Pence said the family support network could sense the momentum building as Tuesday stretched into Wednesday morning.
She added that the first sense that she got that the election could go in favor of Trump/Pence was when results came in for Virginia, the home state of Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine. Clinton and Kaine ultimately won the state, but the results were close.
“They (the Democrats) should have been romping there,” Denise Pence said.
Pence family members left the ballroom around 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, after Trump’s 3 a.m. acceptance speech, and Denise Pence said she and Gregory hosted them in their room for a bit before finally going to sleep.
“We were so excited,” she said.
Denise Pence added that she thinks Mike Pence will do as phenomenal job as vice president.
What a difference a week makes
Just one week earlier, family members were helping the cause close to home outside the Exit 76 Antique Mall in Edinburgh — just outside of Columbus.More than 70 people showed up last Tuesday at the store owned by Gregory and Denise Pence for a mini Trump-Pence rally featuring Trump-Pence Indiana campaign chairman Rex Early, vice chair Tony Samuel and state director Suzie Jaworowski.
Prior to the rally, Gregory Pence said it seemed that everyone just wanted to know what life was like on the campaign trail for himself and his candidate brother.
While Gregory Pence said he no longer had to wear security buttons and receive clearance before getting on board the campaign plane over the past few weeks, the Secret Service still insists on having dogs sniff their bags and keeping the candidates on a constant move at any location that hasn’t be secured, he said just before last week’s family rally.
Gregory Pence summarized life on the campaign trail in one word: Work.
“If my brother is not speaking, there’s always some type of communications going between Mr. Trump, the campaign, my brother, his staff,” Gregory Pence said. “I can’t believe the number of high-pressure hours my brother puts in.
While Mike Pence always wanted to talk about policy these past few months on the campaign trail, “drama is what people are most interested in,” Gregory Pence told the crowd of local Republican supporters that day.
Seven days later, drama is what Pence backers got.
As in a dramatic victory for the Republican presidential ticket.
As 16 student volunteers from Sandy Creek Christian Academy in Seymour were putting up long rows of Trump-Pence yard signs along Executive Drive near the antique mall, Gregory Pence said things were much different during his brother’s earlier days in politics.
When Mike Pence was an Indiana congressman from 2001 through 2012, most people wanted to politely discuss national issues, Gregory Pence said.
After he was elected governor and inaugurated in January 2013, people were still interested in his policies — either in a positive or negative way, depending on their political affiliation, the governor’s brother said.
“There’s none of that now,” Gregory Pence said a week ago. “All anyone asks is ‘What’s it like?’ It is just so other-worldly to most people that a guy from Columbus, Indiana, is running for vice president.”
And winning the race for vice president.
After Trump chose Mike Pence to be his running mate in mid-July, the entire family found itself immersed one way or another in the sometime surreal world of celebrity, other family members confirmed.
For Gregory’s wife and business partner, Denise Pence, one such moment came as she was serving as one of 57 Indiana delegates to the National Republican Convention in Cleveland in July.
“When I was standing on the floor, casting my vote for Mike Pence for vice president, I was very emotional,” Denise Pence said. “And when I’m told to expect hundreds at a rally — but thousands show up — that was also surreal.”
For Mike Pence’s mother, also of Columbus, the experience of having her son on the GOP presidential ticket is new, unusual, and — as she calls it — “a blessing.”
“Suddenly, my world became smaller,” said Nancy Pence Fritsch, who also attended last Tuesday’s event near Edinburgh Premium Outlets. “That means my life now encompasses so many more people, philosophies and policies.”
The former Chicago resident said her son’s passion for Republican politics may have been rooted in her own disgust of the administration of Democrat Richard J. Daley, the late mayor of Chicago who served from 1955 to 1976.
The sight of watching her four sons, including Mike and Gregory, riding wagons in a 1964 campaign parade for GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater was going through her mind during the event in Edinburgh, she said.
Pride seeped into Fritsch’s final comment about her candidate son.
“Michael has always aspired to do something great for our country, and I know he’ll do a phenomenal job,” Fritsch said.
Opinion page content that normally appears in Thursday’s edition, such as Harry McCawley’s column, will appear on Sunday this week.