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Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg ventured Thursday morning into the backyard of Republican opponent Mike Pence, arriving in Columbus with flair and fire.
Stepping off a large tour bus downtown, the contrast in Gregg’s eclectic choice of attire — formal pinstripe suit, red polka-dot power tie and a casual, black Cummins baseball-style cap — was hard to miss.
Gregg was mixing it up in more ways than one as he stepped inside Papa’s Deli, 412 Washington St., to a welcoming crowd of about 80 people.
The event evoked an image of a large, happy, family reunion. There were a lot of smiles and good cheer.
Former U.S. Rep. Baron Hill, who represented Indiana’s 9th District for five terms, was greeted warmly by former Columbus Mayor Fred Armstrong.
Brad Bookout, who is running for Indiana’s 6th Congressional District, and Vi Simpson, Gregg’s running mate for lieutenant governor, were in tow on the tour.
But it was Gregg who captured the spotlight.
“I realize whose hometown I’m in. I’m in the hometown of ... my friend Bob Garton,” Gregg said of the former president pro tempore of the Indiana Senate.
While Gregg and former Senate leader Garton did work together to pass bipartisan legislation in the Indiana General Assembly, the pause in the misdirected quote was an initial poke at Pence, the other powerful political figure from Columbus.
Gregg said Pence represents far-right conservatives who are not interested in bipartisanship.
“I am the only person standing between you and tea party control of state government,” Gregg told the Columbus crowd.
Gregg also alleged that Pence wasn’t a friend to companies such as Cummins, the city’s largest employer, which announced weakened earnings this week.
When General Motors and Chrysler were struggling to survive a few years ago, putting more than 120,000 Hoosier jobs at risk, Gregg noted that Pence voted against the federal government helping them with loans.
One of Chrysler’s brands, Dodge, makes the Ram pickup truck for which Cummins makes diesel engines.
“Pence knew what that meant to the city and he didn’t lift one finger to help,” Gregg said.
Gregg said that if he’s elected governor, companies such as Eli Lilly in Indianapolis and Cummins will know that he will do everything he can to help them.
“I will not turn my back on Indiana businesses,” he said.
Later, at a stop in North Vernon at the Hoosier Street Grill, 161 Fifth St., Gregg said that while Cummins as a company hasn’t endorsed him, “I hope I have the support of people who work at Cummins.”
North Vernon resident Joe Massie, who was at the diner to eat a meal, not hear Gregg campaign, said hearing the candidate talk was helping him decide whom to vote for as governor.
Massie, a logger, said Gregg’s comments about helping the working class stuck with him.
“We need more support for the working class,” said Massie, who declined to name which candidate he was leaning toward.
Debbie Pinnick of Edinburgh, who listened to Gregg in Columbus, said she likes his ideas about creating jobs and reducing unemployment. She also said Gregg is an “all-around great guy.”
Ron and Kathy Panning of Columbus, who also listened to Gregg at Papa’s Deli, said they think the Democrat is sincere about wanting to help Hoosiers, while Pence might have one eye looking ahead to a future presidential run.
They also believe that Gregg would do a better job of working with the other party to pass bipartisan legislation.
“He’s a conservative Democrat who can reach across the aisle. We don’t need partisanship,” Kathy Panning said.
Thursday, Gregg and Simpson made four other stops after campaigning in Columbus and North Vernon: The Brickyard Cafe in Lawrenceburg in Dearborn County, and the Democratic Party headquarters in Jefferson, Scott and Clark counties.
The stops on his “Workhorse Tour” are part of a statewide blitz to help him make a late rally in the race. Gregg has trailed Pence in the polls and fundraising.
Pence raised more than $2.9 million in the third quarter of this year, which ended in September, and has raised more than nearly $13 million total, according to campaign finance information filed with the Indiana Elections Division. Gregg raised a little more than $1 million in the third quarter and has raised more than $5 million total.
The bipartisan Howey/DePauw University Poll for Sept. 19-23 had Pence leading Gregg 47-34 percent. However, Gregg cited a poll by the Democratic Governor’s Association that had him trailing just 47-44 percent.
Gregg said the latter poll reflects that Hoosiers are learning that Pence’s partisanship is the reason no bill he authored ever became law during his time in Congress, and that he’s not showing up for work and missing the majority of his votes in Congress this year.
“I know we’re going to step even (in the race) about (today), and pull ahead Saturday, Sunday, Monday,” Gregg said.
Gregg talking points
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