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October 11, 2012

HOWEY: The curious campaign of John Gregg

NASHVILLE — OK boys, you wanna put that hose down now?

We’ve never quite seen a gubernatorial campaign like John Gregg’s.

First, he does have two first names, but so did Govs. James Ray, Daniel Wallace, Ashbel Willard, Albert Porter, Oliver Morton, James Williams, Ira Chase, Claude Matthews, Thomas Marshall, Harry Leslie, Ed Jackson, Emmett Branch, George Craig and Mitch Daniels. Just wanted to set the record straight on the name front.

Most Hoosiers running for governor adorn their campaigns with sophisticated images, slogans and logos. John Gregg borrowed the Pringle’s Potato Chip mustache. His TV ads are folksy cornpone. His props are all vintage Sandborn, Ind., home to the Blue Jay and its loafers, and Carol’s Cut & Curl. The music is closer to “Hee Haw” than “American Idol.”

And he’s pulling off some stunts that would get other candidates into boiling water. Indiana Republican Chairman Eric Holcomb rightly asks how Gregg can get away with using his pastor in a TV ad while lobbing bombs at Rep. Pence’s $174,000 salary and congressional voting record. And it’s true, if Pence had used his pastor in a TV ad, he would have been excoriated.

Blair Englehart, an ad executive with the Englehart Group, observed that Gregg’s first ad, featuring his friend named Hobo “seemed to effectively position him as a small-town man with strong family values. Watching that ad, I came away thinking that it was an intriguing start — and I looked forward to how he would branch out to represent his ideas, his experience and the values of the Democrat party. Unfortunately, the ads really haven’t branched out. A ‘hometown’ approach may work well in a local or even regional race, but these ads apparently are not having a significant effect on a large number of voters, according to recent poll results.”

My Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll last week showed Gregg trailing Pence by just 47-34 percent. In the solidly Democratic 1st CD, Gregg only had a 40.9 to 37.4 advantage over Pence. As Region Democrats are telling me, they don’t get the hayseed ads. They want Gregg to put a hard hat on, or a Bears helmet, and take aim at Pence on right-to-work and living wage issues. Gregg has not consolidated his Democratic base, getting only 68.9 percent of the party vote. That should be closer to 80 percent. Pence is walloping Gregg with independent voters, 40 to 20 percent. Gregg has to close that gap. And it is that data that underscores why Pence doesn’t want to talk about his coming moral agenda, and Gregg has fitfully been trying to smoke him out. If Gregg figures a way to do that, those numbers will likely change and that is a path where this race could tighten up.

That Pence is below 50 percent is a bit of a surprise.

As Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and State Sens. Brent Waltz or Greg Walker will tell you, being 13 percent down in late September does not mean certain political death. Recent Political history is rife with surges that come in the final five weeks of a campaign, as Richard Mourdock just proved in May. But that kind of fortune takes a campaign hitting on all cylinders, a slew of cash and a dose of good luck.

Another interesting data set is with women. Pence’s fav/unfavs stand at 36.3/16.3 percent with all women (compared to 18.6/9.3 percent for Gregg), and among independent women they stand at 33.4/14.9 percent, compared to 9.7/10.9 percent for the Democrat. The Gregg campaign is failing with that voter segment. Gregg and the Democrats have tried to latch on to the so-called “War on Women.”

That is the biggest frustration for the Gregg campaign and Democrats. They know Pence and the conservative legions in the Indiana General Assembly are patiently talking about jobs, the economy and education when they know, come January, a vivid and controversial “moral” agenda will unfold taking aim at chemical abortion, birth control and gay marriage.  

The Gregg campaign has been perplexing in other ways. He toyed with running throughout early 2011, formed an exploratory committee in May of that year and officially declared a month later. Yet, he didn’t hire a finance director until April of 2012, just after a disastrous first quarter finance report that saw him raise just $584,000, after posting a little more than a million for 2011, compared to Pence’s haul that approached $5 million raised since he entered the race in 2011.

The predominant question this past summer among and to Democrats has been: Can you see a path for John Gregg to win this thing? The answer was mostly a shake of the head, though a common second thought was always, “If Mike Pence makes a big mistake.”

John Gregg will have three debates with Pence this month, and you can be sure that he will attempt to do what Pence has resisted, and engage in the moral issues that are not so popular with independent voters.

So there you have it. I still rate this race as “Likely Pence,” though there are avenues for Gregg to get back in.

OK, boys, I’m done with this analysis. Can you get down off the roof and wash my car?

Howey is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana.

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