Angie's List head could challenge Pence after religious freedom battle

Washington (CNN)Mike Pence's stumbles over Indiana's religious freedom law could soon land him in an expensive primary battle against one of the leaders of the backlash the governor faced.

Bill Oesterle, the co-founder and chief executive of Angie's List, the Indianapolis-based consumer review publication who once managed former Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels' campaign, says he is so frustrated with how "badly damaged" Pence left the state that he's returning to politics.
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And he's suggesting that he wants to take Pence on himself.
    Oesterle quit his Angie's List job on Wednesday, telling TheStatehouseFile.com that he wants to "begin the long process of repairing that."
    "I haven't figured out how I'm going to do that," Oesterle said. "That could involve helping somebody else run. That could involve working on legislative races. That could involve becoming a candidate myself."
    Oesterle played a critical role in the backlash when Pence signed a religious freedom law that socially conservative supporters insisted would allow businesses like wedding caterers and florists to turn away gay and lesbian customers.
    He announced that he was canceling Angie's List's plans for expansion in Indianapolis, providing what could have been the toughest local blow as businesses from Apple to Walmart and sports organizations like the NCAA lambasted Indiana's law.
    And when Indiana Republican leadership announced a "fix" that backtracked on the bill's reach, Oesterle broke from the business community by complaining that the fix didn't go far enough -- and calling on Indiana to pass a state law banning discrimination against LGBT Hoosiers.
    Just as interesting to Indiana political observers: The emergence of Oesterle -- who managed Daniels' 2004 campaign for governor and remains influential, but operates behind the scenes -- could finally force into the open the bitter, festering battle between Daniels backers and Pence supporters.
    It's a divide that also shows up in broader Republican politics. The Daniels clan is focused almost exclusively on fiscal and regulatory issues. It's shown little interest in divisive culture battles, and many ex-Daniels hands helped beat back a 2014 push to amend a same-sex marriage ban into Indiana's constitution.
    The Pence group, meanwhile, is much more interested in social issues -- harkening back to the governor's time in Congress, when he led a charge to stop government funding from going to Planned Parenthood.
    The pro-LGBT rights Human Rights Campaign recently polled Indiana and found Pence is vulnerable -- splitting evenly, 47% to 47%, in a head-to-head rematch with Democrat John Gregg, who Pence beat in 2012.
    Among Republicans, 29% said the religious freedom debate had soured their impression of Pence -- while 53% of those surveyed overall said the issue leaves them with a negative impression of Pence.
    The issue wasn't particularly popular with Republicans, with 49% of the party's supporters saying they believe businesses should be able to refuse service for religiously justified reasons.
    Oesterle told TheStatehouseFile.com that the religious debate "came at a time when I was naturally thinking about what I might do for the rest of the my life."
    "So I came to just the obvious realization that you have to pick," he said. "You have to be a public company CEO or you can go work on political and social issues. You can't do both."