An Indiana Democrat, John Gregg, ought to win the governor’s race in this year’s election. This is as true now that Gregg’s opponent is Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb, as it was when it appeared Gregg would be running against incumbent Mike Pence.
Pence’s gift of gaffe was almost limitless. Let us begin to count the ways: Whether he was defending discrimination against the LGBT community as religious freedom, enabling the state’s degrading addiction to coal, or earnestly signing off on one of this country’s most oppressive laws regarding women’s reproductive rights, Pence seemed determined to build a wall around Indiana.
It’s no wonder he won Donald Trump’s vice presidential sweepstakes.
By the time Trump plucked him from a freakishly narrow field of ne’er-do-wells, Pence had so thoroughly managed to reinforce every negative Hoosier stereotype that many voters seemed ready to vote against him, if only to stop his ham-handed assault on the state’s national reputation.
Enter Eric Holcomb, a Republican hack, whose career in politics has never included actually being elected to anything. Short on both time and money, his campaign, thus far, has amounted to his saying, “more of the same.”
In most elections, in most states, this situation would represent a golden opportunity for the opposing party, a chance not just to compete, but win a coveted office. But this is Indiana we’re talking about — and the Indiana Democratic Party — which makes predicting what happens in November a decidedly slippery proposition.
This starts with John Gregg, the Democratic nominee. Gregg is a longtime Democratic pol, whose greatest claim to fame may be that he almost beat Mike Pence in the last election. This, in spite of a cornpone campaign that managed to alienate many urban voters, most of whom happen to be Democrats.
As long as he could play the anti-Pence, Gregg’s prospects were bright. But, like so many Hoosier Dems, Gregg’s record is pro-life, pro-gun and pro-coal. His ads feature Republicans applauding him for being a fiscal conservative. He appears, in other words, to be just like a Republican — only competent.
This approach may work for Gregg. But it does nothing to enhance how we think about Indiana, or address the ways life is changing here. Unfortunately, its lack of imagination is characteristic of the Hoosier Democratic Party’s MO, which has been to accept and thus perpetuate clichés about how retrograde and reactionary we are.
And herein could be John Gregg’s undoing. Our state’s lack of genuine political competition — not just among candidates, but ideas — has led to almost unprecedented levels of voter apathy and political participation. In 2014, 43 percent of state house and senate races were actually uncontested. Voter turnout, unsurprisingly, was the lowest since World War II.
Bernie Sanders has called for an initiative, “Our Revolution,” aimed at recruiting, training and even funding new generation progressive candidates to run for state and local offices. It’s a provocative idea that has yet to find its legs. But something like it could reinvigorate Indiana’s Democratic Party. Unless, that is, the state’s Dems like things just the way they are.
This shouldn’t be difficult.