Many of the same Democrats who blasted Republican Sen. Dan Coats last year for his time spent as a federal lobbyist are backing Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg, who's a registered lobbyist in Indiana.
It's a political role reversal from the 2010 Senate campaign, in which Democrats criticized Coats for months over his lobbying work. The state party even set up a website to portray Coats as a friend of well-funded special interests, not average voters.
"Those who spent 2010 attacking Senate candidate Coats and misrepresenting his record may have a lot of awkward explaining to do," said Kevin Kellems, an adviser to Coats during the Senate campaign.
Pete Seat, Coats' former campaign spokesman and now the spokesman for the Indiana Republican Party, said he's not surprised Democrats have changed their position.
"This isn't the first time they'll be forced to eat their own words," he said.
Coats did not run for re-election to the U.S. Senate in 1998 and later joined the high-powered firm of King & Spalding, where he helped lead the company's government affairs division and lobbied for pharmaceutical, defense and energy companies, among others. He was re-elected to the Senate in 2010.
Gregg — a gregarious former Indiana House speaker who said Monday he would run for Indiana governor in 2012 — is a lawyer at the Indianapolis-based firm of Bingham McHale. Lobbying records show he's associated with topics including government, alcoholic beverages, gaming, finance, taxes and legislative ethics, though no expenditures or gifts to lawmakers are listed.
Advisor Steve Campbell said Gregg registered in case he would be called on to do lobbying work through the law firm but he isn't actively lobbying. Campbell said Gregg has returned to the Statehouse just twice since leaving his post in 2002 — once for an event and once for a funeral.
Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker, who was a chief critic of Coats' lobbying work, said the senator did more lobbying work than Gregg and had questionable clients.
"The situation is apples and oranges," he said.
Republicans were quick to point out what they called the hypocrisy of once-critical Democrats now backing Gregg — but they can't easily criticize Gregg for lobbying after dismissing Democrats' complaints of Coats' lobbying in the high-profile 2010 race. The issue never gained traction among voters in 2010, Democrats point out.
"Hoosiers pretty much weighed in on that last year when they sent Dan Coats to the Senate," Campbell said. "Hopefully this will be a campaign about the issues important to Hoosiers."
Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, said some voters might find it interesting, though not especially unexpected, that Republicans and Democrats seem to have swapped positions on lobbying.
"This will not shock anybody," he said.
Gregg is the only Democrat to declare a run at the governor's office currently held by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, who cannot seek a third consecutive term under state law. Gregg will likely face Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, an outspoken conservative considered the frontrunner in a GOP primary that also includes Fishers businessman Jim Wallace.