News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

October 12, 2012

Gregg upbeat after debate, despite poll showing

TERRE HAUTE — If the polls still had John Gregg down on Thursday, he didn’t seem too worried.

“We’re going to win the state house the same way we’re going to govern,” Gregg said inside a packed Coffee Cup Family Restaurant that afternoon. “From the ground up.”

Moseying about the crowded dining room, Indiana’s Democratic candidate for governor couldn’t find an empty seat as he shook the diners’ hands. A throng of the local party’s faithful filled several tables, while the rest were taken by regulars around 1:40 p.m.

“The gap is closing,” he said to applause as he prepared to leave. Wearing a suit and tie, the folksy self-styled “guy with two first names” seemed ready for business the day after debating his Republican and Libertarian opponents, Mike Pence and Rupert Boneham. The more people see him in contrast to Pence, a Republican congressman, the better he does, he said, stating that “Candidate Mike Pence and Congressman Mike Pence are two different people.”

The two have known each other more than 30 years, and Gregg has nothing bad to say about Pence on a personal level, describing his opponent as a “very ethical man.”

But he’s an ideologue, and one that “doesn’t know the meaning of the word bipartisanship,” Gregg said, emphasizing his belief that that’s not what Hoosier voters really want.

In his own television ads, Gregg employs homespun phrasing in the gas stations and beauty parlors of small towns. But the attorney and former college president maintained he is not actively trying to contrast his with Pence’s more polished image.

“We’re not necessarily trying to be the opposite. I am who I am,” he said.

Bill Treash, president of the Wabash Valley Central Labor Council, said it’s been long enough that some people might not remember how prominent a man Gregg was while serving in the state legislature. A state representative from 1986 to 2002, he became Speaker of the House in 1996. From 2003 to 2004 he served as interim president of Vincennes University. Getting a chance to meet him in person, Treash said, reminds people of why that was the case.

“I thought it was great that he took time out of his busy schedule to come and visit with us,” he said at one of the crowded tables. Gregg’s ability to work with both parties is something he prefers to as the “my way or highway approach” he sees in the GOP.

“The Democrats are pretty hard workers. We have three weeks left and we’re ready to go,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kim Danner said Thursday was her first chance to meet the candidate for whom she’s been making campaign calls. Wearing a blue and white campaign shirt, she describing the plight of the middle class as a partisan one.

“I’m against corporate greed,” she said, adding Republicans, in her opinion, support just that. “The middle class’ best hope is to keep Democrats in office.”

But outside the restaurant, Gregg said he remains committed to the same bipartisan approach that helped him balance the state’s budget while Speaker of the House. Hoosiers he terms “Lugar Republicans” feel their party has abandoned them for the more extremist Tea Party, and he actively solicits their support.  

“We need someone who can create jobs,” he said, adding that it’s difficult in doing so with extremist ideology.

“I cannot imagine Kokomo without Chrysler, or Fort Wayne without GM,” he said, pointing out his opponent opposed the federal bailout of those companies. “He said his ideology wouldn’t allow him to do that.”

In addition to disaffected Republicans, Gregg said Indiana Democrats are particularly strong in the state’s northwest counties, as well as central Indianapolis. And the party’s strength in southern Indiana is starting to come back, he said, noting he is as he was, a man from Sandborn.

Shannon Wetnight’s hands were filled with plates of pie. The restaurant was brimming with customers related to the campaign stop, and the 26-year-old waitress said business seemed good. A mother of one “and one on the way,” she said health care and education topped her concerns.

“Anything to better them. Everything needs to be better,” she said, explaining she’s in between semesters at Ivy Tech Community College with plans to become a nurse. “If it weren’t for federal aid and grants, I wouldn’t be able to go.”

Gregg himself was en route to another campaign stop in Evansville, and more later on Thursday. Instead of watching the national vice-presidential debate that evening, he’d be speaking to voters in Mount Vernon, he said. Regarding his own debate performance the evening before, he said the night went well for him and he was able to get his points across. More points are on the way though as he continues to drive his message.

“I was pleased,” he said.

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or brian.boyce@tribstar.com.

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