TIME Addiction

Health Officials Worry as HIV Cases in Indiana Grow

TIME.com stock photos Health Syringe Needle
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Health officials say families are using drugs together

The number of new HIV infections in Scott County, Indiana, has risen to 142, prompting local and state officials to call it a public-health emergency.

A new report released by the federal and state health officials on Friday reveals disturbing trends in injection drug use in a county of only 4,200 people. Scott County has historically reported less than five new cases of HIV each year, making the new tally of 142 all the more alarming. Health experts say the recent outbreak is reflective of a growing drug epidemic nationwide.

“There are children, and parents and grandparents who live in the same house who are injecting drugs together sort of as a community activity,” said Dr. Joan Duwve, the chief medical consultant for the Indiana State Department of Health, at a press briefing. “This community, like many rural communities, especially those along the Ohio River and Kentucky and West Virginia, has really seen a lot of prescription opioids flooding the market. With few resources [and] not a lot to do, the use and abuse has been occurring for at least a decade and probably longer.”

Health officials note that like many other rural counties in the U.S., Scott County has high unemployment, high rates of adults who have not completed high school and a large proportion of residents living in poverty with limited health care access. The report underlines the fact that the county consistently ranks among the lowest in Indiana for health and life expectancy.

“The outbreak highlights the vulnerability of many rural, resource-poor populations to drug use, misuse and addiction,” said Duwve.

The ages of the men and women diagnosed with HIV in Scott County range between ages 18 and 57. The health officials report that no infants have tested positive, though a small number of pregnant women have. Ten women in the cluster were identified to be sex workers. Around 84% of the patients have also been infected with hepatitis C. Eighty percent of the patients with HIV have reported injection drug use and among those people, all of them have reported dissolving and injecting tablets of oxymorphone. Some also reported using methamphetamine and heroin.

Dr. Jonathan Mermin, who runs the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, reminded reporters that the United States is facing an epidemic of prescription opioid abuse. “An estimated two million people are dependent on or abuse prescription opioids nationally. So while opioid pain relievers can play an important role in the management of some types of pain, the overprescribing of these powerful drugs has created a national epidemic of drug abuse and overdose,” he said.

The CDC estimates that nationwide about 3,900 new HIV infections each year are attributable to injection-drug use, which is down nearly 90% from a peak of about 35,000 in the late 1980s, says Mermin. He adds that opioid poisoning deaths in the United States have nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2011. This epidemic has already played a major role in a growing epidemic of viral hepatitis among people who inject drugs with a 150% increase in reports of acute hepatitis C nationwide between 2010 and 2013.

State health officials and the CDC are working together to control the outbreaks of HIV and hepatitis C. The state has launched a public health campaign to notify residents of the support available to them: lab testing and treatment, referrals to addiction services and employment, and help with insurance registration. The state initially declared a 30-day public health emergency for Scott County on March 26, but expanded the executive order another 30 days. “I want to assure everyone [that] the state of Indiana will not abandon this community once the executive order is over,” said Dr. Jerome M. Adams, the Indiana State Health Commissioner.

The CDC also released a health advisory on Friday, and is asking states to look closely at their most recent data on HIV and hepatitis C diagnoses, overdose deaths, admissions for drug treatments, and drug arrests in order to help identify communities that could be at high risk for unrecognized clusters of the infections.

“We must act now to reverse this trend and to prevent this from undoing progress in HIV prevention to date,” said Mermin.

TIME Indiana

Indiana Hires PR Firm After Religious-Objections Law Flap

Opponents of Indiana Senate Bill 101, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, march past the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis on April 4, 2015
Doug McSchooler—AP Opponents of Indiana Senate Bill 101, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, march past the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis on April 4, 2015

A PR firm will try to restore Indiana's image "as a welcoming place to live, visit and do business"

(INDIANAPOLIS) — Indiana’s economic and tourism development agencies hired a public relations firm Monday to repair the damage to the state’s reputation from a religious objections law that raised the specter of discrimination against gays and others.

Meanwhile, the General Board of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which had canceled conventions in Indianapolis amid the national controversy over the law, said it was bringing its meeting back to the city now that Republican Gov. Mike Pence has signed amendments to the statute that satisfied its concerns.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. announced Monday it was collaborating with the Indiana Office of Tourism Development in hiring the Porter Novelli firm to strengthen Indiana’s reputation “as a welcoming place to live, visit and do business.”

Amid the uproar over the Republican-backed law that many feared would allow businesses to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, two groups canceled Indianapolis conventions and two others considered doing so. Fort Wayne, the state’s second-largest city, had six national conventions express concerns about continuing business in Indiana, local officials said.0

The IEDC news release did not mention the law known formally as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but the reason for hiring the firm was made clear in an email sent by the tourism office’s communications director, Jake Oakman, to local tourism officials. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the email.

“The Indiana Office of Tourism Development is partnering with the IEDC on this initiative to restore Indiana’s image after the recent political controversy surrounding RFRA,” Oakman wrote.

Indiana Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said his committee last week added $1 million to tourism funding in the pending two-year state budget specifically for that purpose.

The IEDC has signed an initial letter of engagement with Porter Novelli to define the scope of work and develop a budget for the project, the agency said.

Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, used the IEDC announcement to renew a call to amend Indiana’s Civil Rights Act to add sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The actions announced today by the IEDC are an admission by the governor that more must be done to clean up the mess … created with RFRA,” Lanane said.

The General Board of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) announced Monday that the amendments signed into law on April 2 addressed its concerns and it has selected Indianapolis for its 2017 General Assembly after earlier pulling the meeting from the city.

The Indianapolis-based denomination’s general minister and president, Sharon Watkins, said “there is a newly invigorated statewide understanding that Indiana needs improved laws and ordinances protecting all people from discrimination.”

“Locating our assembly in Indianapolis, now that our concerns have been addressed, positions us more strongly as a moral voice in the movement for equal protection under the law for all,” Watkins said.

TIME Indiana

Indiana’s ‘No Gay Wedding’ Pizza Parlor Raises $842,592 From Supporters

The campaign initially asked for $25,000

The Indiana pizza parlor that sparked outrage after its owners said they would not cater gay weddings because of their religious beliefs has raised more than $840,000 from supporters.

The Walkerton, Ind. pizza parlor entered a national debate over Indiana’s contentious Religious Freedom Restoration Act when its owners said in an interview that they would serve anyone regardless of sexual orientation but would not cater a gay marriage. “If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no. We are a Christian establishment,” co-owner Crystal O’Connor told local news outlet WBND-TV Tuesday evening.

The comments drew a backlash on social media and prompted the owners to close their store.“I don’t know if we will reopen, or if we can, if it’s safe to reopen,” O’Connor told TheBlaze TV.

But supporters started a GoFundMe campaign initially asking for $25,000, and by Friday the now-closed campaign had raised $842,592 from more than 29,000 people.

According to the staff of the Dana Show, a conservative radio talk show that supported the campaign, the pizza parlor will now work with a pro bono accountant.

TIME States

Arnold Schwarzenegger ‘Furious’ About Indiana Law

Arnold Schwarzenegger Attends The Queensland Real Estate Agents' Summit
Tara Croser—Newspix/Getty Images Arnold Schwarzenegger attends the Queensland Real Estate Agents' Summit 2015 at RNA Convention Centre on March 17, 2015 in Brisbane, Australia.

The former California governor says the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is bad for the GOP

Arnold Schwarzenegger says the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which sparked outrage from critics concerned it could lead to discrimination against LGBT people in Indiana, is a “distracting, divisive law” that is “bad for the country” and bad for his Republican Party.

The former California governor wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post arguing that American politicians (and Republicans in particular) should be focusing on solutions to real problems that affect Americans’ health and wallets, like pollution and traffic. To attract and retain young voters, he writes, “We must be the party of limited government, not the party that legislates love.”

Read more at the Washington Post.

TIME

Why Religious Freedom Bills Could Be Great for Gay Rights

Demonstrators gather to protest a controversial religious freedom bill recently signed by Governor Mike Pence, during a rally at Monument Circle in Indianapolis on March 28, 2015.
Nate Chute—Reuters Demonstrators gather to protest a controversial religious freedom bill recently signed by Governor Mike Pence, during a rally at Monument Circle in Indianapolis on March 28, 2015.

"Anyone involved in social change has often had to take something that looked pretty bleak and turn it into an opportunity"

Opponents of the religious freedom laws recently passed in Arkansas and Indiana criticized the measures as a license to discriminate against LGBT people, but the battle over the bills may come to benefit the very people who led the charge against them.

Suddenly, a community that has been unsuccessfully championing LGBT non-discrimination measures for decades has the nation’s attention. A civil rights movement needs an outraged public to enact reform, and this fight —from grassroots protests against the bills to disapproving tweets from Walmart executives—generated plenty of it. Gay rights advocates strategically used the showdown as a megaphone to decry the absence of discrimination protections for LGBT people in many states. While nearly 90% of people believe that it’s already illegal to discriminate against gay and transgender people, there are no such laws in the majority of the United States.

On Thursday, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence approved changes to the state’s newly passed religious freedom law that make it clear the measure can’t be used to discriminate, but his opponents are taking this opportunity to push for more—demanding that Indiana become not just the 20th state to pass a religious freedom act but also the 20th to pass comprehensive non-discrimination protections for LGBT residents.

“Anyone involved in social change has often had to take something that looked pretty bleak and turn it into an opportunity,” says Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN). “And you better believe that everyone who believes in justice is going to keep making a way out of no way. And this is another one of those moments. Let’s let people know what the stakes really are.”

This silver lining may have already sparked change in Florida, where gay rights advocates have long been pushing a non-discrimination bill that would protect LGBT people in the realms of employment, housing and public accommodations. For nearly a decade, the bill has been filed each year without coming up for a vote, says Carlos Guillermo Smith of Equality Florida. His group has built a coalition of more than 300 businesses who support the measure—including prominent companies like Walt Disney World and the Miami Heat—but that hasn’t moved the needle. Now, in the wake of Indiana, Smith says it looks like the bill may finally get taken up by a committee next week.

“It’ll be the first hearing we have had on the issue, ever,” says Smith.

In Pennsylvania, advocates preparing to introduce a non-discrimination measure in the next two weeks have used the fallout in Indiana to highlight the potential economic costs to Republican lawmakers. Companies have halted expansion in the Hoosier State, lucrative conferences have threatened to convene elsewhere and recruiters tasked with luring executives to the area are worried about companies already there choosing to relocate.

“It’s the severity of the backlash,” says Equality Pennsylvania’s Ted Martin, “that really and truly serves as an example that discrimination is just not the way to move a state forward economically. I think the leadership in our capitol will pay attention to that.”

This is already the tack that many LGBT advocates have been taking, concentrating on the dollars-and-cents arguments instead of just acceptance-and-tolerance. In Florida, the non-discrimination bill is pointedly named the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, positioned as a way to attract the broadest range of the best talent. What’s happening in Indiana, Smith says, “is making the argument for us.”

Some worry that support for non-discrimination measures will be hard to drum up, partly because the realm of marriage equality has been a double-edged sword for LGBT Americans. As the Supreme Court appears poised to make same-sex marriage the law of the land, advocates are ready to celebrate securing a right with enormous emotional and practical importance. At the same time, says Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, “The concern has always been that we might make the mistakes of every other civil rights or human rights struggle. Women win the right to vote and mistake that for full equality. Brown v. Board of Education rules that segregation is unlawful, and there’s a mistaken notion that somehow we’ve won the war on racism and bigotry.”

The fear, she says, is that casual supporters of gay rights would get the impression that the work is finished, brush off their hands, put away their pocketbooks and go home. “The notion that we’re done is something that we’re fighting,” Kendell told TIME in 2014. The fight in Indiana has made it clear that the war is not over. It has also demonstrated to the likes of Kendell that they have wells of support that are bigger than they realized, as everyone from the NCAA to Angie’s List balked at the law. “We have seen a cascade of support for basic, fair treatment for LGBT people in the public square that I could never have imagined,” Kendell says. “I want to bottle this lightning.”

While the national conversation has focused on the theoretical same-sex couple seeking a hypothetical cake from a traditionalist baker, Sarah McBride of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, says that the controversy has been an opportunity to point out that the LGBT discrimination is not only real but that the vast majority is more “life-altering” than having to seek out a second pastry shop. “The economic numbers don’t lie,” she says, noting that LGBT Americans experience higher levels of poverty, homelessness and unemployment than the general population. A report she authored in 2014 found that 27% of LGBT people have experienced “inappropriate treatment” or hostility in a place of public accommodation like a shop or restaurant.

McBride says that another difficulty that comes along with wins for marriage equality is that there are more opportunities for discrimination. Heartened by court rulings, people are more willing to come out of the closet and may even be forced to effectively out themselves at work when, for the first time, they’re filling out paperwork to add a same-sex spouse to their health insurance policy. Those are opportunities to encounter backlash that didn’t exist before, she says. A favorite rhetorical example among such advocates is that in several states, a lesbian could now be married on Sunday and fired for being gay on Monday, left with only patchy and confusing legal recourse. “The confusion around the legal landscape needs to be clarified,” McBride says. “That’s why there needs to be a comprehensive federal response.”

Members of Congress have tried and failed to pass non-discrimination legislation that would protect LGBT people in employment nearly every session since 1994. In a “historic” 2013 vote, the Democrat-controlled Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA. Then the Republican-controlled House didn’t take it up. Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat, said in late 2014 that rather than fight the same fight again, he plans to go bigger: introducing sweeping legislation that covers not only employment but housing and public accommodations. And the controversy over religious freedom restoration bills—which are still pending in six states beyond Indiana—may help jump start a measure that has stalled so many times. It will need a jolt for a GOP-controlled Congress to consider taking it up.

“Senator Merkley’s hope is that with the news out of Indiana and Arkansas we can finally get the support we need to get LGBT Americans the rights they deserve,” a spokesperson for Merkley tells TIME.

In some ways, fighting for marriage equality is an easier task for gay rights supporters than fighting for LGBT non-discrimination bills. Part of it is Americans’ widespread belief that those protections are already in place and confusion about what legal options LGBT people have if they’re fired from a job for being gay or transgender, while it has always been obvious and indisputable where same-sex marriage was not legal and what that meant. A lack of marriage rights is a straightforward issue, while discrimination isn’t always easy for outsiders to see, says Jenny Pizer of Lambda Legal. “Non-discrimination is proactive and not reactive,” Pizer says. “That is a different kind of social change process.”

But the religious freedom bills, which have been considered in more than a dozen states so far in 2015, could change that. McBride says such incendiary proposals may prove the “tangible” means of activating support for their cause, just like constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage provided them a target at which to aim when fighting for marriage equality.

People like Smith will be watching closely to see whether backlash against the new religious freedom law is indeed enough to boomerang the state legislature beyond fixes to passing stand-alone non-discrimination legislation. That would be a telling lesson in a state run by a politician who once declared that he opposes “any effort to recognize homosexual’s [sic] as a discreet [sic] and insular minority’ entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws similar to those extended to women and ethnic minorities.”

“Their version of our bill is still in the works,” Smith says. “If we can’t even get that in Indiana, then I don’t know if we’ll be able to get it in Florida.” But if Smith’s team does get their hearing next week, you can count on them pointing a lot of fingers in a northwesterly direction.

TIME College Basketball

Here’s Your 2015 Final Four Drinking Game

Aaron Harrison of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrates after defeating the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the Midwest Regional Final of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball tournament at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, on Mar. 28, 2015.
Gregory Shamus—Getty Images Aaron Harrison of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrates after defeating the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the Midwest Regional Final of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball tournament at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, on Mar. 28, 2015.

How to liven up a hoops party -- responsibly

TIME introduced its inaugural Final Four drinking game last year, and our second installment is back by popular demand—just in time for Saturday’s match-ups from Indianapolis. Duke plays Michigan State at 6:09 p.m. E.T., while Wisconsin and Kentucky tip off at 8:49 p.m. TBS will broadcast both games.

As always, please play responsibly. Follow local laws, don’t overindulge and please take a cab home if need be.

With that, here are this year’s rules:

Drink When Raf Calls “Man-to-Man”

Announcer Bill Raftery, the avuncular, white-haired former coach who has popularized phrases like “with a kiss” for a player who makes a bank shot, will finally call a Final Four on television. This honor is long overdue, and the arrest of former top analyst Greg Anthony in January for allegedly soliciting a prostitute created a spot for Raftery. Listen for the sweetest sound in March: at the beginning of each game, soon after the tip, Raftery will chirp that the defense is in “man-to-man!” He’s pumped, so you’re pumped. Who wouldn’t drink to that?

Raise Your Glass When TBS Airs Gordon Hayward’s Missed Half Court Shot

This is the first Final Four in Indianapolis since 2010, when the Blue Devils cut down the nets at Lucas Oil Stadium after defeating Butler in the championship game, 61-59. Butler’s Gordon Hayward, who now plays for the Utah Jazz, barely missed a half-court shot at the buzzer that would have given the hometown Bulldogs the win. TBS producers surely have that clip cued up for Saturday.

When You See a Slap, Hit the Tap

To rev themselves up, Duke players love to slap the floor.

Take a Sip When Announcers Play Up Michigan State’s Hometown Friends

Michigan State players Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes grew up together in Lansing, Michigan, a jump shot away from Michigan State’s campus in East Lansing. They’d down Capri Suns from Valentine’s fridge and were high school teammates. The announcers will start yapping about the Lansing connection, and you’ll know what to do.

Drink When Frank the Tank Makes an Improbable Shot

Wisconsin’s Frank “the Tank” Kaminsky, arguably the country’s best college player, is effective because he can score in all sorts of different ways. Drink up every time Tank makes a goofy, off-balance shot that has no business going in.

Finish Your Beer When Dekker Hits a Three

Sharpshooter Sam Dekker torched Arizona in the West region final, scoring 27 points in Wisconsin’s 85-78 win. In the second half, Dekker didn’t miss a shot, going 6-6 from the field and 3-3 from the foul line. His three off the dribble in the waning seconds sealed the win, and made Aaron Rodgers real happy. “Sam Dekker pretty much crushed our dreams,” Arizona’s T.J. McConnell said after the game. But he may even liven up your party, if you sip when Dekker hits a three.

Down a Drink When the Announcers Name Drop the Harrison Twins

In last year’s Kentucky-Wisconsin national semifinal, Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison hit the game-winning three pointer with less than 6 seconds left. He hit another big one down the stretch in Kentucky’s thrilling 68-66 victory over Notre Dame in the regional last Saturday, and in that game, his twin brother Andrew made the deciding free throws. In last year’s title game, however, UConn’s guards outplayed Kentucky’s brotherly backcourt, a key factor in UConn’s win.

Toast to Ashley Judd Hitting the Jumbotron

When the camera pans to Kentucky super fan Ashley Judd, which seems to happen a few dozen times every game, keep the celebration going.

Bottoms Up When Announcers Predict First-Draft Picks

If you prefer pro hoops to the college version, you should still tune into this year’s Final Four, for no other reason than you’ll see plenty of future NBA talent. One writer predicts that as many as eight top prospects may be selected by NBA teams that participate in the annual draft lottery, where the luck of the ping-pong ball determines a bad team’s draft position.

Cheers to a Potentially Perfect Season

The biggest storyline going into this year’s Final Four: Kentucky’s quest for perfection. The Wildcats are 38-0, and two more wins would give them the first perfect season in major men’s college basketball since 1975-1976, when the Indiana Hoosiers of Kent Benson, Quinn Buckner and Scott May ran the table. So raise a glass every time you hear “1976 Indiana Hoosiers.” We’ll drink to history.

TIME Indiana

In The Latest Issue

Gay Rights Religious Freedom Time Magazine Cover

The Battle of Indiana
How a showdown over religion and gay rights is changing the culture war

The Writing’s on the Wall for Christians
Is it necessary for the new majority, which has won the culture war, to drive religious dissenters out of the public square as pariahs?

What Indiana Could Learn From Utah About Gay Tolerance
Conservatives are writing a suicide-note to Millennials—they don’t have to

Nuclear Deal or No Deal
Why the U.S. cannot walk away from negotiating with Iran

Caught in the Cross Fire
As the chaos of a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia spreads, the U.S. is searching for a safe path forward

The Big Test for Chinese Students
Cheating allegations dog Chinese students applying to U.S. colleges—but the reality is more complex

David Zaslav: The Cable Boss
Why the Discovery CEO is the biggest guy in television

The Culture

Pop Chart

Meet Trevor Noah
Fake-news’ rising star

A Real Game of Thrones in Wolf Hall
Cromwell, the Tudor antihero, is a man for our season

Kentucky Basketball and the Biggest Record Setters in Sports
How winning streaks stack up

Harvey Weinstein, From Screen to Stage
The movie mogul makes his Broadway debut

The Invincibility Formula
A new book shows us how to conquer our fear of rejection, but it’s no easy fix if you’re a parent

10 Questions With Candice Bergen
In a new book, the actress records her reflections on marriage, motherhood and Murphy Brown

Briefing

Depression in the Flight Deck
How are pilots screened for psychological distress?

Artichoke, Turmeric and More Strange Flavored Water Products
Producers try to replicate the success of coconut water

America’s Cup for Pope Francis

For his papal visit, a silversmith is working on a special chalice

Nigeria Elects a New President With High Hopes for Change

What You Said About …

TIME Indiana

Indiana’s ‘No Gay Wedding’ Pizzeria Has Closed

"We’re in hiding basically," says co-owner Crystal O’Connor

An Indiana pizzeria remained closed on Wednesday, embroiled in a national debate after its owners said they would not cater gay weddings because of their religious beliefs.

“I don’t know if we will reopen, or if we can, if it’s safe to reopen,” co-owner Crystal O’Connor told TheBlaze TV. “We’re in hiding basically, staying in the house.”

The Walkerton, Ind., pizza parlor is the first business since Indiana passed the highly controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act to publicly cite religious beliefs as justification to refuse a service to the LGBT community.

The owners said they would serve anybody who came into the restaurant regardless of sexual orientation, but drew the line at weddings. “If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no. We are a Christian establishment,” O’Connor told local news outlet WBND-TV Tuesday evening.

The comments sparked social-media uproar, and the company’s Yelp page has been flooded with angry comments. Someone went so far as to buy the domain name www.memoriespizza.com to post a message against discrimination.

At the same time, people who support the owners’ stance have started a GoFundMe campaign aiming to “relieve the financial loss endured by the proprietors’ stand for faith.” The campaign has raised nearly $50,000 so far.

Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act is a law prohibiting the government from infringing on the religious beliefs of a business, organization or person. Critics of the bill say it can be used to justify discrimination against the LGBT community.

TIME Mike Pence

Indiana’s Mike Pence Takes Blows, Burnishes Credentials In Religious Freedom Fight

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence speaks during a press conference at the Indiana State Library in Indianapolis on March 31, 2015.
Aaron P. Bernstein—Getty Images Indiana Gov. Mike Pence speaks during a press conference at the Indiana State Library in Indianapolis on March 31, 2015.

Becoming a liberal pariah can be good politics for a conservative

There are few immutable rules in politics. But here’s one: anytime you call a televised press conference to explain that you “abhor discrimination,” something’s gone awry.

Such was the plight of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who was dragged into the searing glare of the national spotlight Tuesday to defend a new state law that critics say will invite discrimination. That 37-minute gauntlet followed another televised grilling in which Pence dodged hypothetical questions about whether a wedding florist could deny service to gay couples. The controversy over Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) enveloped the Hoosier State this week, sparking a massive outcry from businesses, activists and ordinary citizens.

But in gauging the damage inflicted on Pence, it’s worth recalling another of politics’ Newtonian laws: in partisan warfare, taking enemy fire for a cherished cause always mobilizes your own troops. For a conservative like Pence, becoming a liberal pariah is pretty good politics.

In other words, for a governor with half an eye on national office, there are worse moves than planting yourself at the center of a national controversy. Just ask Scott Walker, who vaulted from obscurity to the top of the early presidential pack primarily by picking a bruising fight with Wisconsin’s unions. Pence may have underestimated the blowback he’d get from signing the so-called religious-freedom statute. But the skirmish could help more than hurt in the long run.

In the near term, the battle of Indiana has raised the national profile of a first-term governor whom many Republicans have long dubbed a dark horse contender in the 2016 race. Pence has yet to spring from the starting gate: he hasn’t hired staff, built a fundraising apparatus or made the early trips to primary states that are reliable signs of presidential ambitions. But on paper, he is the kind of candidate capable of catching fire.

“Mike has a unique ability to rally people from all different sectors of the conservative movement,” says his former chief of staff Marc Short, who is now president of Freedom Partners, the political fund for the billionaire Koch brothers. “Mike models servant-leadership better than any politician or public official I know.”

Pence, 55, has described himself as a “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.” This week’s legislative fight showcased the Christian part. But over six terms in the House of Representatives, Pence also built up glittering conservative credentials as he battled the Bush Administration on policies ranging from the bank bailout to No Child Left Behind to Medicare Part D. He left a coveted spot as chair of the GOP Republican Conference for the statehouse in Indianapolis, a perfect perch from which to mount a national campaign.

Pence is more likely than not to pass up a campaign. For one thing, Walker and perhaps Ohio Gov. John Kasich have already occupied the Midwestern governor’s lane on the road to the nomination. But after months off the national radar tending to the legislative session in Indiana, the RFRA fight “puts Pence right back in the center of the storm,” says a longtime party strategist. If he survives the tempest, he could steer himself into contention as a champion of an issue that is particularly dear to voters in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses. “Pence right now has the opportunity to win the Republican nomination by standing firm,” argues Mike Farris, a conservative lawyer who helped draft the federal RFRA in 1993.

At the same time, a dramatic confrontation on a divisive social issue was hardly the best way to introduce himself to the mainstream voters Pence would need to mount a credible campaign. “Does it help him? I doubt it,” says one top Republican strategist who believes Pence’s team bungled the issue. “If the primary voters think you aren’t skilled enough to beat Hillary, you’re going to be in a bad spot whether you have a good [voting] scorecard or not.”

With reporting by Sam Frizell and Zeke J. Miller

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