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October 22, 2012

For Democrat Gregg, politics is about the personal

INDIANAPOLIS — In John Gregg’s book about his life in politics, the southern Indiana Democrat opens the first chapter with a somber quote about the moral roots of public service and a humorous description of himself as a  “burrheaded pudgy kid.”

It’s classic Gregg: A mix of the smart and serious, infused with some down-home charm.

Gregg, a lawyer who spent 8 of his 16 years in the Indiana legislature in the powerful position of speaker of the House, is employing some of that charm offensive as he runs for governor in a state he described in his book as “really, really Republican.”

His campaigns’ early TV ads, set in small-town Sandborn where he grew  up. Featuring his mom, his church pastor and ladies at the local beauty salon, the ads are what Indiana political analyst Brian Howey calls “folksy cornpone.” Gregg’s signature mustache, mimicked on his campaign literature, has prompted comparisons to the avuncular actor Wilfred Brimley.

After spending a recent weekend criss-crossing southern Indiana, shaking hands with voters at dinners, festivals and a parade, Gregg sounded confident: “I always felt like if I could meet all 3.1 million Hoosier voters, I could win hands down.”

He made the comment knowing that recent polls had him trailing his Republican opponent Mike Pence, a U.S. congressman with a big fund-raising lead.

Gregg, 58, shrugged off a question about the polls. “You know, good guys can win,” he said. 

Gregg’s challenge is to convince voters that he’s good for Indiana, while his opponent is not. He describes Pence – whom he’s known since both men were in law school at Indiana University – as someone he likes personally but vehemently disagrees with in political philosophy.

He paints the conservative Pence as an extremist, with a divisive social issues agenda; he portrays himself as a moderate-conservative Democrat with a plan to boost the state’s economy (which includes a cut in the state’s gas tax) and with deep experience in state government.

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