In politics, there are two things that matter to voters: How much they like you as a person and how much they like what you stand for or want to do if you’re elected.
In 2012, former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg scored heavily with voters on likability. If you didn’t know John Gregg before he ran for governor, you either knew him as “the man with two first names” or the man associated with mustaches on bumper stickers or one of a handful of folksy television commercials. In short, there simply wasn’t anything not to like about John Gregg -- unless you were voting for Mike Pence.
If the recent Indiana Democratic State Convention left any impression on delegates, it left the impression that Gregg is ready for a second run, even if one appeared unlikely in the months following Pence’s narrow win.
Gregg’s candidacy presumes first that there won’t be an Evan Bayh redux in the governor’s race, and that will throw things wide open. It presumes that polling will indicate Gregg is still strong in a head-to-head with Pence, who now has incumbency on his side. And it assumes that Democrats don’t have any other fish in the barrel that might prove to be Pence antidotes for the party. It’s extremely doubtful that Pence will be a serious presidential candidate in 2016, but if he isn’t serious about being a candidate for governor, that could be an opening for Gregg who is battle-tested in a statewide race.
Assuming that all those questions add up to John Gregg as the best chance the Democrats have, then the big question is this: How does he convince voters to like him more than Pence?
What we can say is that if Pence has left any Achilles heel exposed, it’s in the area of education. Problems behind the scenes with State School Superintendent Glenda Ritz have been so strong that speculation has led to her name being mentioned as the party’s standard-bearer in 2016. That probably won’t happen, but if Ritz’ election in 2012 proved anything it was that money and incumbency didn’t matter in a key statewide race. That’s a harbinger for an underdog Gregg and his campaign staff ought to remember every day. Even in a state where Republicans have had their way with Democrats the past three general election cycles with the exception of Barak Obama’s 2008 win, voters simply liked what Ritz stood for and represented more than Tony Bennett. In fact, they may have liked her simply because she wasn’t Tony Bennett.