This is the third of three stories about candidates for Indiana governor. Todays story looks at Democrat John Gregg.
INDIANAPOLIS – John Gregg has always loved politics.
I can remember the Kennedy-versus-Nixon election a little, but I was 10 during the Goldwater-versus-Johnson election, and I can remember watching the national conventions, he said. My parents let me stay up and watch them.
So its not a surprise that 48 years later, Gregg is trying to pull an upset and defeat front-runner Mike Pence to become the next Indiana governor.
Gregg, a Democrat, has trailed behind the U.S. congressman from the start – in name recognition, polling, money.
But he still thinks there is a road to victory.
The challenge for me today is to get people to look beyond the party labels, he said. Im not your candidate if you see ideas as liberal or conservative. I see ideas as good or bad.
Thats why he has reached out in the last month to Lugar Republicans – meaning Republicans more moderate than their tea party colleagues.
The question is will it be enough?
Hes certainly closer to Richard Lugar than his opponent, said Rep. Win Moses, D-Fort Wayne. It wont be easy to do, but its a good plan. Im more optimistic than most people. I dont feel its over in any fashion yet.
(Gregg has) been successful in the past and he just may get it done.
Gregg, 58, is a single father with two boys in college. He spent 16 years in the Indiana House, including six as speaker.
His political career actually is longer than that of Pence, who has served 12 years. But Gregg has been working as a lawyer since 2002 and has largely been out of the political game.
Gregg also has a stint as interim president of Vincennes University.
He hasnt been on the air with television ads as long as Pence, and his overall ad strategy was a gamble.
Gregg focused on life in his hometown of Sandborn to tell his story, from the ladies at the local beauty shop (including his mom), to a man suffering from cancer and the local minister who is always at work.
Backed with folksy music, Gregg managed to get some digs in on Pence while not going the normal route of dramatic, shaky, black-and-white ads.
I had faith. It was an excellent strategy, Gregg said. People needed to get to know me, and my hometown molded me more than anything besides my parents.
Recently, though, he has done a reversal – moving the ads to the Indiana Statehouse and wearing a suit while talking about serious issues.
Those issues include a pilot pre-kindergarten program and a plan to use existing dollars for infrastructure and a tax cut.
Specifically, Gregg wants to eliminate Indianas sales tax on gasoline, which brings upwards of half a billion dollars every year to state coffers. He would pay for the program through efficiencies and collecting sales tax on online purchases in Indiana.
He also boasts that he is the only candidate with experience balancing the states budget and shepherding legislation.
Overall, his campaign comes down to one important topic – divided government.
The Indiana House and Senate have overwhelming Republican majorities so the only way to ensure a split government is to win the governors race.
I am the only person standing between tea party control of state government, Gregg said. I dont think that ultraextremism is right for Indiana, and there are no checks and balances when the Republicans are in charge.
What happens then? He noted the state government misplacing – then finding – hundreds of millions of dollars; losing tens of millions in a failed welfare modernization contract with IBM; and a sputtering child welfare system.
Gregg says hes making a late move in the race with help from coverage of three statewide debates, a visit from former President Bill Clinton and good poll numbers.
In those debates, Gregg has been aggressive – some might even say too much so. And mostly Pence has ignored the bait, sticking faithfully to his message about jobs and education.
I dont pay a whole lot of attention to Mike, Gregg said. If voters look at my experience, its an easy choice.