Debates offer peek into old Gregg and Pence
By TOM LoBIANCO The Associated Press October 15, 2012 8:58AM
Updated: October 15, 2012 10:06AM
INDIANAPOLIS — John Gregg likes to joke that he’s known Mike Pence so long, he remembers when the congressman had dark hair and Gregg had locks of his own.
The joke is funny on a few levels: It’s a classic, dry Gregg one-liner that is at once joshing Pence and self-deprecating. It also points out that the two went to law school together and even talked in the decades before the governor’s race.
That they ever talked might be as shocking as the thought of their follicular challenges, as Gregg has lambasted Pence throughout the campaign and Pence has largely ignored Gregg.
But many voters could use glimpses of personality like this as the final weeks of the race for governor wind down.
In one of their only true exchanges with each other, Pence dug subtly at Gregg, saying that Democrats left Indiana “effectively bankrupt” when Gov. Mitch Daniels took office. But Gregg finally succeeded in drawing Pence out with a counter of his own.
“You talk bipartisanship, but you’ve always been the lead attack dog on the people in my party. You know, the candidate and the congressman, they’re two different people,” Gregg said, prompting a Pence rebuttal.
“John, you’re not sounding very much like yourself these days. You’ve known me for a long time,” Pence said. “Maybe the reason you didn’t answer the question about fiscal responsibility is because for five of the six years that you were speaker of the House, Indiana ran deficits.”
On the surface, it was a fairly predictable battle between a Democrat and Republican. But behind the words were a nimble Republican congressman not seen in a highly-scripted campaign and a former Statehouse giant who has been supplanted in ads by a caricature of a small town jokester.
Take two examples from their previous lives:
“If people are looking in and they think that men and women like Todd Young and Jackie Walorski, who are running great campaigns in Indiana, or people like Dennis Ross and Daniel Webster down in Florida, who I was with earlier today and yesterday, are coming to Washington, D.C., to meet liberals in Washington, D.C., halfway, they’ve got another thing coming.”
That’s not Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock — who says the style of bipartisanship championed by former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar consisted of agreeing to $75 billion in new spending rather than $100 billion — talking. It was Pence, speaking in a 2010 Fox interview about what he meant when he said Republicans would sweep into Congress with a promise of “no compromise.” The language was strident, but he also aired out a longstanding critique that House Republicans were railroaded by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as she drove Democratic legislation without a need for Republican votes.
Two things in that interview are missing from Pence’s gubernatorial campaign: the fire that made him a favorite of social conservatives and evangelicals and the nimble intellect that informs his conservatism.
In a separate example, facing an estimated $2 billion surplus, Indiana’s speaker of the House promised that money would be returned to taxpayers, just not via a larger, across-the-board cut that Republicans had campaigned for. That speaker was not Republican Brian Bosma, who recently said campaign tax cut pledges might have to wait, but then-Democratic speaker John Gregg.
“Will it be perfect? No,” Gregg said at the start of the 1999 session. “Will it be fair and good? Yes. Can we work with Republicans? Yes. We will work with them.”
Missing now? That sense of control and deliberation in brokering deals that helped him pass three biennial budgets with Indiana’s overwhelmingly Republican Senate.
Those men, the fiery conservative congressman and the redoubting state House speaker, have been largely absent from the campaign trail this year. Pence was undone by a multi-million campaign airbrush that has painted him in a red pickup truck with a “Roadmap for Indiana.” And Gregg, out of power and running as the underdog, traded the measured talk of a leader holding his cards tight for the exaggerated proclamations of a candidate looking for attention.
But two more debates have the potential to show voters a little more of each candidate’s true colors before they hit the polls.