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Gregg's chances in governor's race may hinge on Obama

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Democrat John Gregg's chances of winning the governor's office next year will likely hinge on whether President Barack Obama's supporters can work some of the same campaign magic they used in 2008 to turn Indiana a presidential blue for the first time in four decades.

Indiana Democrats scored an initial victory in recruiting the former House speaker to return to politics and seek the governor's office after other Democrats, including former Sen. Evan Bayh, opted not to run. The party establishment now hopes to keep the field clear of any primary challengers.

Gregg is expected to face Republican front-runner Mike Pence, an 11-year congressman who has two key ingredients for electoral success: strong name recognition and fundraising muscle. And while those prospects might be daunting, the Democratic Governors Association says it sees Indiana as one of its best chances to retake the governor's office of the 11 gubernatorial races across the nation next year. Republicans are expected to safely maintain control in North Dakota and Utah, and Democrats will be trying to maintain governor's offices in eight other states.

"It's a top-tier state for us. It's a pickup opportunity, and we think John Gregg is a very good candidate," said Colm O'Comartun, DGA's executive director.

Indiana will be coming off eight years of Republican governorship under Mitch Daniels, and to many, the state's conservative roots might seem to favor another Republican.

But Democrats are hoping the Obama campaign — and its Organizing for America campaign-in-waiting, spun off from the 2008 campaign — will play well in Indiana again, boosting Gregg's chances. That year, a late primary battle with then-Sen. Hillary Clinton that dragged past Super Tuesday — the point at which many presidential primaries are decided — forced Obama to make an abnormal number of campaign stops in a state most contenders typically ignore.

After a narrow primary win, Obama's strong voter registration effort and subsequent turnout, particularly among young voters and African Americans, made him the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Indiana since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.

Whether the stars will align for a strong Obama presence again in 2012 is still unknown. He has maintained a presence here as president, visiting the state five times since taking office.

Republicans say Obama will no longer be able to run with a blank slate in Indiana, defending instead unpopular policies that burned Indiana Democrats in 2010. Republicans say that could create a voter backlash in 2012 akin to what Indiana Democrats suffered in 2010, when they lost one U.S. Senate seat and three congressional seats.

"There's a clear sense of voters' remorse in this state with regards to perpetually high unemployment and out-of-control spending in Washington. The sense we get from travelling the state is that Hoosiers will not be fooled again," said Pete Seat, Indiana Republican Party spokesman.

Pence has already flexed his muscle, albeit quietly, with a fundraiser last weekend that pulled in about $650,000.

And Republicans could get another boost from Daniels. GOP fundraiser Bob Grand said Daniels' decision not to run for president — which could have created strong coattails for a Republican gubernatorial candidate if he ran against Obama in the general election — will likely free him to focus more directly on keeping the governor's office in Republican hands.

O'Comartun won't say how much the DGA will kick into Gregg's campaign just yet. Gregg adviser Steve Campbell said the campaign has met extensively with DGA staff recently but they have yet to talk about money.

But Grand said the Pence campaign will have to plan to raise as much money as possible.

"I don't think it's ever a case where anybody ever concludes early on they don't think they're going to have to raise the maximum amount of money," he said.

Money and presidential coattails might ultimately be less important, though, than the whims of Hoosiers, who can be a fickle bunch and often divide their support among the parties.

As voters moved down the ballot from the Obama-McCain matchup in 2008, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jill Long Thompson lost roughly 300,000 of those Obama supporters — and was trounced by Daniels, who won re-election with an 18-point margin.

In 2004, Daniels beat incumbent Democrat Joe Kernan by 8 percentage points, while President George W. Bush bested his Democrat opponent that same year by 20 percentage points.

And in 2000, Bush won Indiana handily with 57 percent of the vote, while Democratic Gov. Frank O'Bannon captured 57 percent of the vote in his re-election bid.

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  • Jim 2 ?
    I wonder if the disaster state legislature you are referring to has anything to do with Pat Bauer and the pack of democrats running away to IL to hide from his elected duties
  • Jim2 what are smoking
    Jim2 - I guess you were not paying attention to the last mid term election - it is going to be ugly for the democrats
  • Jim 1 is funny and Chad is funnier
    Jim says Obama has no chance of winning in Indiana? Same thing Republicans said 4 years ago...right now they have a slate of hopefuls far worse than their last Presidiential candidate, and a state legislative session that ranks as one of the worst in history...nothing that stimulated the economy, or that would produce jobs...toothless immigration legislation, defunding Planned Parenthood, pointless political posturing and extremism that accomplished nothing...Indiana Republicans have no more record to run on than Obama...if you are a moderate or centrist, you view what the current crop of state legislators have done with great suspicion, and there are a lot of them (us) out there, we just don't beat our chest everytime we think we did something great. I expect Obama to be very effective here, if not victorious, and that may be enough to carry Gregg to victory over the pious Mr. Pence. The economy is not better...the state itself may be in better economic shape than most, but people's lives in Indiana are not better..and voters are going to be incredibly fickle until they percieve that that has changed. That Jim 1 has his head in the sand after just 4 years is all the proof anyone needs that the Republicans have fallen asleep at the wheel again already, and don't really understand what the voters were mandating in the first place when they gave them control of both houses here...so they will pay a price at the ballot box again, and soon, I predict. By the way Chad, ...your response to Jim 1 is much better than this one...short sweet, and funny too.
  • re: Jim
    "By the way why is it that the blogs on a business journal site are so full of liberal anti-business comments?"

    It's well known that the truth has a liberal bias, Jim.
  • no way
    Thanks goodness Obama has no chance of winning Indiana - and likewise most intelligent voters realize how lucky Indiana residents have been to have a conservative leader who has allowed us to weather the economic downturn much better off than any of our neighboring states. By the way why is it that the blogs on a business journal site are so full of liberal anti-business comments? I guess if you don't work you have a lot of time to blog!
    • yea right
      Maybe if you run this article often enough someone will believe it. The Liberal news media sure doesn't hide it's bias towards their political party choices. Why don't you just publish this article every day and see how that works for ya?
    • yea right
      Maybe if you run this article often enough someone will believe it. The Liberal news media sure doesn't hide it's bias towards their political party choices. Why don't you just publish this article every day and see how that works for ya?
    • No way
      After 8 years of Daniels, this state will go Democrat unless they manage to screw up the election.

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