Friday, May 1, 2015

John Gregg or Glenda Ritz? Summing Up the Democratic Candidates for Indiana Governor

Yesterday was a big day for the future of the Indiana Democratic Party.  Former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg announced that he was making another bid for the Governor's Office.  In 2012, Gregg lost to Governor Mike Pence by just over 3 percentage points, or approximately 80,000 votes.  Pence failed to garner 50% in that face with Libertarian and Survivor celebrity Rupert Boneham pulling in nearly 4% of the vote.
John Gregg
Yesterday, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz announced that she is considering the race.

Gregg cited the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a reason he decided to run, even calling for its repeal earlier this month.  There is little doubt that Gregg's extreme position on this issue (most original opponents aren't calling for the repeal after the so-called "fix" was passed) is an attempt to counter the considerable flack he is receiving from liberals in his party upset with his well-documented previous opposition to same sex marriage.  But in trying to make amends with his own party, Gregg has the potential of pushing too hard against RFRA and becoming labeled as a liberal.  Gregg was such a formidable opponent last time exactly because many Hoosiers saw him as a conservative Democrat who shared their values.

Gregg's biggest problem in 2012 was strategy.  He introduced himself to voters with a series of ads originating in his hometown of Sandborn, Indiana.  While attempting to be funny and portray the candidate as a regular Hoosier, the ads came across as hokey and made Gregg look like he wasn't a serious candidate.  When Gregg finally abandoned the Sandborn ads, he quickly made up ground on Pence as the then Congressman attempted to run out the clock with a series of safe, feel-good ads.  If Gregg had run a different campaign from the beginning, he might well be called Governor today.

Glenda Ritz
Meanwhile you have the curious case of Glenda Ritz.  In winning in 2012, Ritz was the beneficiary of voter angst about incumbent Tony Bennett.  The then Superintendent had alienated a huge segment of educators who organized to assist Ritz.  But Bennett didn't just alienate education types, he also managed to educate many conservatives by his embrace of Common Core and his staff working behind the scenes to undermine education reform efforts, a rift that came to a head when Republican state legislators called Bennett out on his A-F program that downplayed the importance of growth.  Meanwhile, Ritz played it smart, appearing open to scrapping Common Core and indicating a willingness to support education reform efforts.

Since her election, Republican legislators and the Governor have feuded with Ritz and taken power away from her. These efforts, played out in the media all over the state, may well spark a backlash to Republicans of the sort that propelled Ritz to office in 2012.  But for Ritz, the former school librarian, winning re-election is one thing while being considered a serious candidate for Governor is quite another.  Ritz's whole political career has been built on a foundation of anger at Republicans.  To run for Governor, she'd have to develop policy positions in a wide assortment of subjects, positions that appeal to voters while putting together a strong organization.  It is doubtful that Ritz, who is still a political neophyte, can pull that off.

Other Democrats will no doubt throw their hats into the ring.  Former Congressman Baron Hill is considering the race.   Former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson has been mentioned but is unlikely to give up his lucrative position with Lilly for a 1 1/2 year political campaign.

If I were betting, I'd put a wager on John Gregg emerging as the Democratic nominee.


Anonymous said...

Ritz is a one-trick pony.

She supports giving as much money as possible to teacher's union.

That's it.

She'll get the teacher's union vote for their own self interest, but that's it.

Plus, "Ritz the Ditz" is catchy and memorable.

Anonymous said...

Since all Gregg has to do i announce that he'd put education backache way it was before Pence to essentially subsume a Ritz campaign, I'd say that's a fair bet. Still, it's 19 months away and a lot of the horses aren't even foaled yet.

Now, since the Mayor's race is already over, and 90% of the Council races are as well, how about a column on how Hogset is going to manage the same problem Pence has - controlling a legislative body that's controlled by his own party, but absent of leadership, brains, and mostly, ethics...

Greg Wright said...

Paul, I knew Glenda Ritz when I was on the MSD Washington Township school board, and she represented the teachers as their chief negotiator. She is tough, knowledgeable and organized. She also kicked ass when she ran against Tony Bennett. If she runs, my money would be on her to win the Democratic primary.

Flogger said...

Gregg is a has been his Campaign against Pence was that of a buffoon. It irks me when these politicians put on what amounts to rustic Halloween Costumes to try sell themselves as just a down home boy.