By Scott Smith
Tribune staff writer
Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg was in friendly territory Friday during a campaign stop at the UAW Local 292 picnic in Kokomo.
The walrus-mustached former Indiana House Speaker might be trailing in the polls, but his enthusiasm was aided Friday by an Indiana visit by President Bill Clinton earlier in the morning.
Thus far in the race, Gregg’s campaign has been mainly about name recognition, but among autoworkers, the chief ally of the late Gov. Frank O’Bannon is well-known, and it showed Friday.
“This race is getting tighter,” Gregg said. “[The Clinton address] was broadcast live on CNN, and I can tell you, I made sure I stood right behind him the whole time,” Gregg joked.
Of course Gregg laid into his Republican rival, Mike Pence, who has been showing up on commercials lately with a red pickup truck, touting a “Roadmap for Indiana” plan.
“People can choose between someone with Indiana real-life experience or somebody who’s been in Washington, D.C., who’s been nothing but an extremist,” Gregg said.
“I know how to get around Indiana without a road map.”
Critics generally liked Gregg’s gubernatorial debate performance this week, but also noted that Pence, with a lead that has approached 25 percentage points at times, didn’t deign to respond to many of Gregg’s attacks.
Friday, Gregg dismissed the name recognition issue, saying “we wanted to show people what shaped me before we started telling what I’ve accomplished,” and suggested the politicking in Indianapolis doesn’t resound in more far-flung parts of the state.
From tiny Sandborn, in Knox County, Gregg is proud to talk about growing up “on a farm near a town of 350 people.”
He said what drives his campaign is the current state of the state, the fact Indiana has slipped from 36th to 42nd in per capita income, and the fact that the unemployment rate remains high.
“What I am about is that there are 400,000 Indiana kids who are going to go to school Monday morning and get a free breakfast because Mom and Dad don’t make enough money,” Gregg said.
His plan is to remove Indiana from the very short list of states that add a state sales tax to every gallon of gasoline, and to target tax cuts at Indiana businesses that are headquartered here.
He said he also wants to use $500 million in currently invested state funds as seed money and collateral to leverage a $3.5 billion building fund, for “roads, bridges, airports and rail.”
And no, Gregg didn’t leave Local 292 without ripping Mike Pence for voting “no” on the auto bailouts, something even Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan didn’t do.
“When I see my opponent driving around in that red Chevrolet pickup truck, I think, ‘He didn’t believe in those American companies, and he didn’t believe in the workers there.’”
Scott Smith can be reached at 765-454-8569 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.