Pence’s 2012 Opponent: Rematch Interest ‘Heightened’ by Indiana Religious Freedom Controversy

Democrat John Gregg said the new law has pushed him further toward opposing Gov. Mike Pence a second time.

Pence: Ready to rumble.
National Journal
Karyn Bruggeman
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Karyn Bruggeman
March 31, 2015, 10:42 a.m.

In­di­ana Gov. Mike Pence’s Demo­crat­ic op­pon­ent from 2012 said Tues­day that Pence’s de­cision to sign a con­tro­ver­sial re­li­gious free­dom bill has “heightened” his in­terest in chal­len­ging Pence again in 2016.

“I was con­sid­er­ing it, and this has only heightened my con­sid­er­a­tion of it,” Demo­crat John Gregg, the mus­ta­chioed former state House speak­er, told Na­tion­al Journ­al.

Gregg lost to Pence by just over three per­cent­age points in 2012.

Pence has been at the cen­ter of grow­ing con­tro­versy since last week, when he signed off on the state’s Re­li­gious Free­dom Res­tor­a­tion Act, which op­pon­ents fear could leg­al­ize dis­crim­in­a­tion against gays and les­bi­ans. Dur­ing a press con­fer­ence Tues­day, Pence called on the state le­gis­lature to pass a fix by the end of this week that clearly es­tab­lishes that the bill does not al­low for dis­crim­in­a­tion, but the dam­age may already have been done. The meas­ure at­trac­ted na­tion­al at­ten­tion and promp­ted po­ten­tial 2016 pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates to weigh in.

Gregg said he’d been busy field­ing calls over the past few days from people en­cour­aging him to chal­lenge Pence, in­clud­ing mem­bers of In­di­ana’s busi­ness com­munity who have vo­cally op­posed the re­li­gious free­dom bill from its in­cep­tion.

“I’m look­ing at it, and I have had a num­ber of calls from non-tra­di­tion­al sup­port­ers want­ing me to take a look at it,” Gregg said in an in­ter­view. “And by that I ba­sic­ally mean a lot of busi­ness people, a lot of mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­ans, have called, emailed, and texted. I can’t even be­gin to tell you.”

Gregg wouldn’t of­fer a hard an­swer on wheth­er he in­tends to chal­lenge Pence, but his web­site, gregg­for­gov­, is splashed with the text: “Big news is right around the corner.” Gregg ad­voc­ated for a full re­peal of the re­li­gious free­dom bill in a post on his Face­book page this week.

Can­did­ates for statewide of­fice in In­di­ana are barred from fun­drais­ing dur­ing the le­gis­lat­ive ses­sion, which ends April 29. That leaves pro­spect­ive can­did­ates with little in­cent­ive to an­nounce their plans be­fore then.

Jes­sica Mar­tin, a spokes­per­son for the In­di­ana Demo­crat­ic Party, said Pence’s de­cision to sign the bill and sub­sequent hand­ling of the fal­lout has “really en­er­gized and mo­tiv­ated people like noth­ing we’ve seen in a while.” But keep­ing in­terest up in a state that Re­pub­lic­ans have dom­in­ated re­cently is an­oth­er is­sue.

“The ques­tion is how do we mo­bil­ize people, how do we keep them en­gaged head­ing in­to 2015 with our mu­ni­cip­al elec­tions and 2016, with the gubernat­ori­al,” Mar­tin said.

Next year’s gubernat­ori­al race will be the first in In­di­ana since same-sex mar­riage was leg­al­ized there in Oc­to­ber. Both Pence and Gregg op­posed gay mar­riage in the 2012 race, while Demo­crat­ic Sen. Joe Don­nelly op­posed it dur­ing his 2012 run but came out in sup­port in spring 2013.

The In­di­ana Demo­crat­ic Party ad­op­ted sup­port for same-sex mar­riage in their party plat­form for the first time in 2014, but Gregg has not yet in­dic­ated if his stance has changed since he last ran. “Here in In­di­ana, now that we have gay mar­riage and now that sup­port­ing gay mar­riage is part of the Demo­crat­ic Party plat­form, can­did­ates are go­ing to have to state wheth­er they’re for or against gay mar­riage now,” Mar­tin said. “That’s just the real­ity. It’s not just here, it’s across the coun­try.”

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