INDIANAPOLIS — Columbus native Mike Pence drove his “big red truck” throughout Indiana, and his next stop will be the governor’s mansion.
Pence defeated Democrat John Gregg and Libertarian Rupert Boneham in the race to replace Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican who served the maximum two terms in office. With 88 percent of the state’s precincts reporting in, Pence led Gregg 50 percent to 46 percent. Boneham trailed with 4 percent.
In his native Bartholomew County, Pence had 17,414 votes to Gregg’s 10,607 and Boneham’s 1,130. Pence beat Gregg 60 percent to 36 percent, and Boneham had 4 percent.
“As a kid who grew up in a small town with big dreams and a cornfield in the backyard, this is really an overwhelming night for me,” Pence said shortly before 11 p.m., during his acceptance speech at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Rupert Boneham (L) 4%
John Gregg (D) 36%
Mike Pence (R) 60%
*Bartholomew County results
“But we know one thing for sure,” he said. “This night is not about us ... This is Indiana’s moment.”
Pence thanked family, friends, supporters and all Hoosier voters, saying they had chosen to take Indiana from good to great.
“Because of you, Indiana won tonight,” Pence told the crowd, eliciting thunderous applause.
Pence also thanked his opponents and those who did not vote for him, promising that he would respect their opinions and work together to make Indiana more prosperous for all Hoosiers.
“Tonight a campaign season ends,” Pence said Tuesday. “Tomorrow (Wednesday) a season of service begins.”
Throughout the evening, Republican supporters enjoyed conversations, TV coverage on giant screens and snacks, including pepperoni pizza, chili dogs and wine, domestic beers and water.
Bill Witek, 49, of Noblesville, stood on the Lucas Oil Stadium mezzanine in front of a big TV screen, munching popcorn while watching the results come in.
Witek said he came to the event to support Pence, because of his conservative leanings and because he “fears God.”
Witek, who owns a landscaping business with 14 employees, said he hoped Pence could do something about Obamacare in Indiana. He said he thinks the government doesn’t need to get involved in health care.
Jennifer Baker, 40, stood on the mezzanine and enjoyed a glass of chardonnay as she looked toward the football field.
Baker, whose husband, Gene, is a Columbus native and still has family here, said she came to the stadium to support Pence. The nurse practitioner said she even played a nurse in one of Pence’s campaign commercials. She said she likes his strong faith and that he is family oriented.
Security personnel walked the stadium aisles throughout the evening, as young children dashed up and down the aisles, trying to entertain themselves as the adults were glued to the TV screens and speeches.
Freda Wilson-Grimes, 66, of Richmond, was watching returns on the TV screen on the mezzanine, holding a Pence/Ellspermann sign at about 9:30 p.m. She, too, had come to support Pence, primarily because of his religious beliefs and his stances on abortion and marriage.
“I just think he’s an honest guy,” she said.
And, she added, you don’t find that very much in politics anymore.
Earlier, Pence started Election Day as he usually does, visiting with voters. This time, he spent about 15 minutes in 26-degree weather Tuesday morning outside Parkside Elementary School, where he attended kindergarten as a child. He grew up near the school.
Then, after a rally with high school students at the Columbus Municipal Airport, Pence had a breakfast of biscuits, bacon and scrambled eggs with firefighters at the Clifford Fire Station. Shortly after 9 a.m., he strolled to an adjacent building to vote along with wife, Karen, and 18-year-old daughter, Audrey. His daughter, a high school senior, was voting in her first election.
Father and daughter did an impromptu “high-five” after both had voted, with Pence joking: “Did you press the red button? I’m feeling pretty good about her vote.”
Pence, dressed casually in a blue sweater, khaki pants and white running shoes, spent about an hour with the Clifford firefighters, many of whom wore “Firefighters for Mike” T-shirts.
Pence gave up his seat as a Republican congressman in the 6th district to run for governor.
“We ran a positive campaign about the future and worked hard to build a base of volunteers across the state. You go into a day like this encouraged, but also humble and emotional about the opportunity.”
From 6 a.m. until at least midday, poll officials said turnout was brisk. By afternoon into late evening, voters in Columbus reported waiting in line two hours or more to cast their ballots.
“It’s been a steady line, very busy. We haven’t stopped since 6 a.m.,” polling commissioner Suzanne Connell said as about three dozen people waited in line at Hamilton Center on Lincoln Park Drive at mid-morning.
Shortly after 7 a.m., at Parkside Elementary School gym, about 70 voters stood patiently in line, with most reporting at least a half-hour wait before casting ballots.
“I find it encouraging,” said Ted Ogle, chair of the Bartholomew County Republican Party of the turnout. “This is a strong Republican (precinct), and I haven’t seen turnout like this in a long time here.”
Pence and Gregg both have law degrees, long political histories and experience with radio talk shows, but the political paths they took toward becoming governor differed.
Pence, a 1977 graduate of Columbus North High School, ran unsuccessfully twice for Congress before winning six consecutive terms. After earning his law degree in 1986, Pence lost congressional elections to Phil Sharp in 1988 and 1990.
He spent most of the 1990s hosting a conservative radio talk show, and a Sunday political TV show in Indianapolis. Also, he was elected president of the conservative Indiana Policy Review Foundation in 1991.
Pence again ran for Congress in 2000, and was elected Indiana’s 2nd District representative. The district was later renamed the 6th District, and Pence won re-election in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010.
His staunch conservative stances helped raise his profile among Republicans, eventually leading to GOP leadership positions. Pence served as the chairman of the House Republican Study Committee — which advances conservative social and economic issues — and was elected to serve as the House Republican Conference chairman — the third-ranking House GOP position — in 2008. His role was to develop and spread the message of the Republican Conference.
Gregg, a Sandborn native and 1972 North Knox High School graduate, worked for two coal companies from 1978 to 1985, and began as a practicing attorney in 1985.
His elected political career began in 1986, when the Democrat won the first of eight consecutive terms as a state representative. He served as Indiana House Speaker from 1996 until 2002, when he left state politics.
The latter portion of Gregg’s time as a state lawmaker overlapped with his role as host of a radio talk show in Indianapolis from 1999 to 2007.
Gregg served a interim president of Vincennes University from 2003 to 2004, and continued working as an attorney.
Unlike Pence and Gregg, Boneham had no political background.
He grew up in Kokomo but has lived in Indianapolis for 21 years. Boneham gained national popularity for his role on the TV reality show “Survivor,” on which he was a contestant three times. However, he’s been known in the Indianapolis area for his community involvement. He’s mentored young offenders in the court system for more than 20 years, and helped create a park adoption system. He’s also a small-business owner.
Special Projects Editor Kirk Johannesen contributed to this story.