INDIANAPOLIS — Democratic candidate for governor John Gregg said his administration would prioritize pragmatism over "divisive" social issues that hurt Indiana's reputation and economy, taking aim at Gov. Mike Pence in a speech Thursday after months of keeping a low profile.
"I'm a very pragmatic person and not an ideologue," said Gregg, emphasizing his criticism of Pence, who was known as a conservative firebrand during more than a decade in Congress. "If you want someone who follows a rigid ideology, ... I'm not your candidate."
That was just one of his opening salvos during a roughly 25-minute speech at a luncheon for government officials that offered both an early glimpse of Gregg's overarching campaign themes, as well as how the onetime Indiana House Speaker will seek to differentiate himself from Pence, who also spoke at the event.
Next November's election will pit the two against each other in a rematch after Gregg narrowly lost to Pence in 2012. But both campaigns have signaled the coming campaign will be far different from the last, when Pence was reluctant to go on the offensive to distinguish himself. Since then, the Republican has been credited with accomplishments including the expansion of manufacturing operations and the Healthy Indiana Plan, which is Indiana's expansion of Medicaid under President Barack Obama's federal health care overhaul. And Pence's campaign says it will be more than happy to highlight those achievements to contrast the two candidates.
But Pence has also faced criticism during his first term, including over his support for the religious objections law Gregg referenced in his speech. Opponents argued the law would sanction discrimination against gay people, and it brought widespread and largely negative attention to the state. Business leaders since then have said it harmed Indiana's economy, damaged the state's reputation.
Those anxieties were not eased when Pence, during his recent State of the State address, said he would prioritize religious freedoms over statewide protections for anyone fired from a job, denied service, or evicted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity — a stance that Gregg is trying to capitalize on.
"I know everybody's thinking that when I say inclusion, I mean the LGBT community," said Gregg. "And I absolutely do. That time is long overdue."
When Pence, whose traditional voter base is evangelical conservatives, later spoke to the crowd, he made no mention of the social issues, including LGBT rights, that are currently dividing the state and the Republican Party.
Instead, he focused on the improving economy and efforts to draw new businesses to Indiana. During his time in office, both Subaru as well as Rolls Royce have announced expansions of their manufacturing operations. He also touted his Regional Cities initiative, which pitted seven Indiana regions against each other in a competition for millions in funding that will pay for quality-of-life improvements.
But Pence also suggested that he understands the consequences of his decisions — both good and bad — and acknowledged "leadership can be lonely sometimes."
"I understand the price of leadership. I understand the challenges of leadership and the weight of leadership," Pence said.