Democrat John Gregg announced Thursday that he will run for governor, setting up a likely rematch with Gov. Mike Pence, who he narrowly lost to in 2012.
By Tom LoBianco
Democrats are lining up to potentially challenge a likely re-election bid by Republican Gov. Mike Pence, whom some see as vulnerable.
Pence’s chief opponent from the 2012 campaign, Democrat John Gregg, announced Thursday he would run for governor again.
Meanwhile, Pence’s continuing critic since taking office in 2013, Democratic State Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz, announced she is considering a gubernatorial challenge, too.
And Pence, who just wrapped up his rockiest session yet, said he was still deciding what his plans are for 2016.
Thursday, the day after the legislative session finishes, is typically filled with coverage recapping the ups and downs of the past few months. But Gregg and Ritz both hijacked the day with their announcements.
Gregg becomes the first major candidate to enter the race, although Pence is very likely to seek re-election.
Gregg, a former Indiana House speaker, told the Indianapolis Star on Thursday that Pence’s actions recently, including fighting with Ritz and the “religious freedom” debacle, had given the state a bad name.
“The governor had done what he said he wasn’t going to do. I thought he was going to focus on the economy, I thought he was going to focus on creating good paying jobs and improving our education system,” Gregg said. “He’s focused on nothing but social issues, which was his record in Congress, and those social issues do nothing but divide us.”
Gregg narrowly lost to Pence in 2012, but Pence successfully avoided most talk of the hot-button social issues in that campaign that he had championed in Congress.
But Gregg’s campaign announcement comes a little more than a month after Pence took a massive hit for signing Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law.
Gregg released a campaign announcement to supporters via video Thursday afternoon, repeating much of the same points.
Pence’s approval rating dropped to 45 points and his likability dropped further to 35 points in the weeks following RFRA, according to a poll taken by Republican pollster Christine Matthews for Howey Politics Indiana.
And an appearance by Pence at the Marion County Republican Party’s annual spring fundraiser was canceled at the last minute this week. Pence was replaced with Republican Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, who opposed RFRA.
Bill Oesterle, the departing Angie’s List CEO who ran former Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels’s 2004 campaign, has floated the idea of challenging Pence, but has not made any final decisions.
Gregg would likely face a challenge competing against Pence, who enters the race with $3.5 million in the bank. But Gregg will likely have an easier time hitting Pence on social issues than in 2012, when Pence largely ducked those questions.
Pence has yet to announce his own plans, but a re-election bid appears all but certain.
“My focus is still very much on the work of the General Assembly right now. We’ve got a pretty tall pile of bills to review. We’re still unpacking everything we were able to get accomplished on our agenda,” Pence told reporters Thursday. “Once we get through all that, we’ll have plenty of time to think about the future.”
Ritz, who upset Republican Tony Bennett in 2012 to be elected the superintendent of public instruction, told reporters Thursday that she would consider running for the Democratic nomination for governor.
“After this session, there’s absolutely nothing off the table,” Ritz said. “First priority is getting through this school year, because we’re in the midst of testing, and getting all that done. But after that, I’m going to sit down with my family and determine what is best for the children and families of Indiana.”
Republican lawmakers approved a measure Wednesday, in the final hours of the 2015 session, which overhauls the State Board of Education, including a further shift of power from Ritz’s Department of Education to Pence’s state board. Republican supporters of the measure called it a compromise because it pushed back the removal of the superintendent as state board chair until after Ritz’s current term expires, but Democrats insisted it was a power grab.