Democrat John Gregg got personal Wednesday during the second Indiana gubernatorial debate, saying he took "great offense" at Republican Mike Pence's plans to promote traditional families, which Gregg said would ignore single parents such as himself.
Amy Leonard, a single mother of three working as a waitress while pursuing a degree in business administration, told the candidates her state aid was cut when she got a job and asked what they would do help people in her situation.
Pence said he understands what it's like to be raised by a single parent and cited his wife's experience growing up. Gregg said Pence's proposal to promote marriage between one man and one woman leaves out single parents.
"He's got a program he wants to focus on families, but it's only a mom and dad family — married couples," Gregg said. "You know, I'm a single parent, too, and I take great offense that his family plan doesn't consider me and my boys a family. Maybe he doesn't think you and your kids are a family, either."
Gregg, who has been divorced twice, has raised two sons as a single father. Wednesday's debate marked the first time he has talked extensively about that personal experience in front of a large audience.
Gregg, Pence and Libertarian Rupert Boneham met for their second debate Wednesday night at the University of Notre Dame.
Gregg, a former speaker of the state House of Representatives, sounded more confident Wednesday, at times trading in some of his previous digs on Pence for a direct appeal to voters that his work as speaker make him best qualified to take over the governor's office.
Pence, meanwhile, stuck almost entirely to the script laid out in his first debate and throughout his campaign. The six-term congressman argued his "roadmap" for the state would best build on Gov. Mitch Daniels' tenure.
Answering a question from Pence on how he would balance budgets, Gregg noted that he was the only candidate who had balanced a state budget and chastised Pence for voting for federal budgets that increased the national debt.
"I've balanced the budget and I've done it in a bipartisan fashion," Gregg said. "In Indiana, we pay as we go; that's not the D.C. way."
Pence fired back that Indiana carried year-to-year deficits before Daniels took office and said the state could not afford Gregg's call for new programs and tax cuts.
"When I look at your plans for more spending and boutique tax cuts, it looks like we're heading to the path of red ink again," Pence said.
Pence has maintained a major fundraising advantage in the race and dominated the airwaves. The latest fundraising tallies showed Pence raised roughly $2 million more than the $1 million Gregg raked in from July through September. And public polling has consistently shown Pence with a double-digit lead over Gregg.
The last of the three gubernatorial debates sponsored by the Indiana Debate Commission is set for Oct. 25 in Fort Wayne.
Speaking after the debate, Leonard said she didn't think Pence or Gregg answered her question, which had to do with what the state could do to help parents like her transition from state aid to financial independence. Instead, they used her question to score the points they wanted, she said.
"I didn't think the question was answered," Leonard said.
Leonard's critique echoes the experience of Michelle McGuire, who asked the candidates at last week's debate to "please be as specific as possible" when answering her question about implementing the federal health care law. McGuire said she was disappointed by their responses, which mirrored the answers they had given on the campaign trail before.
Pence said after the debate that Gregg's criticisms had become too personal, and said he believes Leonard is obviously raising a family.
"But our proposal for a family impact statement is an attempt to address childhood poverty, and it's really been recognized by scholars on the left and on the right that one of the most effective ways to reduce childhood poverty is to encourage more young people to get married, to stay married and wait to have kids until they are married," he said.
Gregg said after the debate that Pence's policy proposal clearly exclude families like his.
"That's insulting to me. It's time we get real. Hoosiers families come in all shapes and sizes. I may be a single dad, but I can tell you at our house we do laundry, we wash dishes and fuss and fight over curfews. … We laugh. We cry. We enjoy each other's company. We face a lot of tough challenges. But we are a family."