Gregg focused on fundraising

Joseph C. Garza | Tribune-StarDemocratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg offers his opinion on Gov. Mike Pence during a speech in Terre Haute on April 30.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Since narrowly losing the governor’s race three years ago, John Gregg has rarely left campaign mode.

Last week the famously mustachioed lawyer and former legislator declared what many suspected, announcing his bid for the 2016 Democratic nomination for governor. Just as importantly, he is accelerating efforts to build a war chest.

“From now till the end of June, we’re focused on fundraising,” Gregg said in an interview crunched between calls to contributors Wednesday . “We are laser-like focused on our fundraising activity.”

Gregg will need millions – $10 million or more, by some estimates – to finance a campaign that can knock off incumbent Gov. Mike Pence, who nearly doubled Gregg’s fundraising the last time they faced each other, in 2012.

Though the primary is a year out and the general election 18 months away, Gregg needs to accumulate money sooner rather than later. Cash will fend off would-be contenders from his own party and leverage more dollars from deep-pocketed Democrats who may be holding out for evidence that he can win.

He’s pitching party loyalists, independents and what he called “disgruntled moderate Republicans.” He tells them that he’s the only kind of Democrat – middle-of-the-road and conservative leaning -- who can win in deep red Indiana, where all but one statewide office-holder is of the GOP persuasion.

“Indiana is not a Democrat state,” he said. “And it’s not going become one.”

When it comes to money, Gregg is starting from behind.

Pence, a former six-term congressman, raised about $15 million to win the 2012 governor’s race with a 49.7 percent to 46.5 percent spread over Gregg. Then he set about restocking his chest.

The Pence campaign had $3.5 million at the end of last year. Gregg, who raised $6.5 million for the 2012 race, had just over $109,000. State candidates can accept unlimited donations from individuals and political committees, but only $5,000 from corporations and unions.

Pence’s fundraising advantage is “huge,” said Ball State University political scientist Joe Losco, who co-directs the Bowen Center for Public Affairs.

“Money doesn’t always buy you votes, and the closeness of the (2012) election shows you that,” Losco said. “But, still, John has his work cut out for him, raising enough money to compete.”

Much of what rolled in for Pence last year came when he was still touted as a possible presidential contender. In the last two months of 2014, a fundraising blitz netted $687,000 from 34 big donors. That included several $50,000 contributions like one from coal company Alliance Holdings of Tulsa, Okla.

Fundraising went quiet during the first four months of this year, due to an Indiana law that prohibits state office holders, including the governor, from raising campaign cash while the Legislature’s in session.

Gregg is convinced that Pence is more vulnerable than ever. The governor’s presidential aspirations seemed to fade during the legislative session that just ended, and he has yet to declare his 2016 intentions.

Pence ran into a buzz saw for his handling of a divisive religious freedom law that critics called a license to discriminate against gays and lesbians. He saw his popularity numbers plunge following a national uproar.

A Howey Politics Indiana Poll in late April showed the governor was vulnerable to a challenge, given his poor marks among women and young people.

“It’s a long way until November 2016,” Gregg told Howey Politics publisher Brian Howey. “If he wasn’t vulnerable, I wouldn’t be interested.”

Democrats face a daunting task in raising enough money to launch a campaign against an incumbent in Indiana, said political scientist Andy Downs of the Center for Indiana Politics at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

But the Howey poll put a crack in that premise.

“There are plenty of people around the state who see our current governor as being as vulnerable,” Downs said. “And therefore raising money will be a little easier here.”

Still, a Democrat needs a lot of money. Howey thinks any Democratic contender needs $10 million to $15 million to take down Pence.

And Gregg will need to reel in some of that fast to attract support from the national Democratic Governors Association, which gave him little in 2012 when his early fundraising faltered.

Meanwhile, the Republican Governors Association steered $1 million toward Pence in 2012, following a $100,000 contribution from conservative industrialist David Koch.

One difference this time around for Gregg: He’s already hired a money team headed by Lori LaFave, a Democratic fundraiser in Washington, D.C., whose clients include Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota.

LaFave has Gregg on the phone, making calls almost daily to churn up the cash.

Just days ago, he also picked up an endorsement from the Indiana Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents 75,000 workers. That came shortly before Pence signed legislation that the council had vigorously opposed - eliminating the common wage law that sets construction pay on public projects.

The endorsement - and the money and votes it brings - may also deter other Democrats such as state schools chief Glenda Ritz, who’s warred with Pence, or House Minority Leader Scott Pelath from Michigan City.

For Gregg, keeping others away is essential to stockpiling money.

“You need to raise money to make money and show you’re a viable candidate” Losco said. “But the spigot won’t open till the donors understand who all the players are.”

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for CNHI’s Indiana newspapers. Reach her at Follow her on Twitter @MaureenHayden

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