Facing money gap, candidate Gregg plays small ball

Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg hopes time is money as he heads into the heart of the 2012 Indiana governor's race.

Gregg trailed Republican Mike Pence significantly in fundraising as of March, holding $1.5 million in the bank to Pence's $4.9 million. And if the last competitive race for governor is any indication, both camps will need far more than both those tallies to claim the governor's office in November. In the 2004 battle, Gov. Mitch Daniels spent $16.8 million to oust former Gov. Joe Kernan, who spent $14.4 million.

Earlier this month, the Republican Governors Association added to Pence's lead with a jaw-dropping single contribution of $1 million. That donation alone is almost double the amount Gregg raised through the first three months of 2012.

"It's nearly impossible to overcome a fundraising gap the size of the one it appears he has," said Jennifer Hallowell, a veteran Indiana Republican operative.

So Team Gregg has to play a little small ball, going for singles here and there and taking walks when they can get them. For the Gregg campaign, that has meant taking advantage of his time in Indiana while Pence is back in Washington, D.C., working his day job as a congressman.

On a tour of Indiana earlier this year, Gregg started the day with a small fundraiser in Santa Claus with roughly 70 Democratic supporters at St. Nick's Restaurant, near the Holiday World amusement park.

"I want to thank each and every one of you for your contributions, because I know they could have been spent other places," he said.

He delivered his main campaign themes before getting down to brass tacks: Democratic voters make up roughly 40 percent of Indiana's electorate and independents make up another 14 percent, so he's looking for Republicans to cross over and vote for him.

"They're out there, they want their party back, they don't like the way it is. We all know them. Talk to them. Talk to them about helping us out, talk to them about voting for us," he said

Later in the day, Gregg traveled north to Logansport to help Cass County Democrats raise money at their annual Jefferson Jackson Dinner, which cost a relatively meager $25 to attend. He spent a few hours working the room and taking photos with local Democrats before taking the stage.

Gregg's staff says that at his best, he can average five events like those a day, depending on how well they've packed his schedule.

When played successfully, small ball is about more than just scraping together donations. Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock proved that while building a network of Republican supporters, many of them unaffiliated with the tea party, across the state.

Still, the campaign sought a shot in the arm with the pick of Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson for lieutenant governor last week. The Bloomington Democrat appeals to the party's base and should fire up donors turned off by Gregg's conservative stances on social issues, said former Democratic Party Chairman Kip Tew.

"I think she's going to help him in every way," he said.

That money makes the difference in whether a campaign relies on "earned media" or "paid media" to win over voters. The terms refer loosely to whether the campaign "earns" press coverage or pays for campaign ads. Gregg has swapped out the money he doesn't have with a series of press conferences designed to "earn" coverage from the Indiana media.

In some cases, the strategy has worked. Hours after Pence announced he was adding freshman state Rep. Sue Ellspermann to his ticket, word leaked that Gregg was taking Simpson for his ticket. Gregg effectively wrested away the news cycle with his announcement the next day.

But both Tew and Hallowell agree that earned media doesn't win campaigns in Indiana. The Pence team's movements seem to reflect that. While he has trickled out informal ideas to the press, Pence was the first to hit Indiana airwaves with a campaign ad featuring him skating with his wife.

Gregg has gotten off a few obvious jokes about politicians skating in response to the Pence ad. But unless he can convert the time he's spending on the ground into money successfully, they will probably stay little more than inside jokes around the Statehouse.

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