It would be hard to imagine Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence feeling anything but ecstatic about the river of dollars flowing into his campaign in recent months. He now has more than three times the money in his war chest as his Democratic challenger, John Gregg.
But Pence should resist any temptation to interpret the widening fundraising lead as license to withhold details of his plans for the state. Pence should take the high road and lay out his full agenda before voters—even with the considerable risk that Gregg would use the information against him in attack ads—because Hoosiers deserve to know how he would lead the state following eight years of sweeping reform under Gov. Mitch Daniels.
Eyebrows danced across the political spectrum April 16 when Pence reported raking in a whopping $1.8 million in the first quarter this year. The figure made the $1.3 million raised by Daniels in the same stretch during his first campaign in 2004 look pedestrian and swelled Pence’s total to nearly $5 million.
Former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg pulled in only $584,570 in the quarter, to reach a total of $1.5 million.
Money doesn’t guarantee victory, of course, and Gregg is expected to run particularly strong in southern counties where conservative Democrats sent a raft of Republican lawmakers to the General Assembly two years ago. Gregg’s trademark humor and talk of reviving the state’s once-proud manufacturing base will appeal to many voters.
Pence, though, is deepening his front-runner status with money to supplement his ongoing advantage in name recognition. Parlaying that status into an example of open leadership would build favor and credibility with Hoosiers should he win the election.
How Pence leverages his front-runner status in both fund-raising and name recognition will reveal a lot about what he’s made of. Many politicians would settle into the lead position and say little beyond the obligatory calls for more jobs and holding the line on taxes and spending. It’s certainly a time-honored strategy for winning elections here in Indiana.
But Pence can elaborate on what he wants to accomplish and persuade voters to go along with his plan. It isn’t as if there won’t be anything left to do after Daniels leaves office.
Pence should explain how he would continue fighting the stubborn related problems of sputtering personal incomes and low levels of college attainment. How would he fund the Interstate 69 expansion between Evansville and Indianapolis? Does he think the state exerts too much control over local issues? After years of preparations, Indianapolis, Carmel and other communities here couldn’t persuade the Legislature to allow a local referendum on mass transit taxation.
Pence also should be upfront about how much prominence he’d give to social issues. He has downplayed such issues in favor of talking about the economy, but if he has plans, he should make his pitch and let voters decide.
Daniels has taken the state a long way toward the future, but there is a long way to go. Pence, and Gregg, have plenty to talk about, and voters will be listening.•
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