ZIONSVILLE — The first gubernatorial debate among Republican Mike Pence, Democrat John Gregg, and Libertarian Rupert Boneham started out cordially Wednesday night with common agreement on the need to boost jobs, strengthen education, and cut taxes.
But it didn’t take long for differences and verbal jabs to emerge — mostly from Gregg directed toward Pence, the presumptive front-runner.
During the televised debate, in front of a live audience of 1,200 along with representatives of about 50 media outlets, Pence and Gregg disagreed on the cost of the sweeping federal healthcare program known as Obamacare, the impact of Indiana’s new “right-to-work” law, Pence’s attendance record in his six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Gregg’s budget-balancing abilities when he was Speaker of the Indiana House a decade ago.
Gregg delivered the sharpest words when he painted himself as a moderate, bipartisan leader while calling Pence an “elite attack dog” of the Republican far-right.
“There is candidate Mike Pence and there is Congressman Mike Pence,” Gregg said, after accusing Pence of misrepresenting himself, his Congressional voting record, and his likeness to current Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels.
Tapping into a famous debate moment from the 1988 vice presidential debate when Democrat Lloyd Bentsen admonished Republican Dan Quayle as “no Jack Kennedy,” Gregg said Pence was no Mitch Daniels.
“Mitch Daniels shows up to work every day,” Gregg said.
Pence, whose early vow to run a “positive campaign” has meant little on-the-record criticism or even recognition of either of his opponents, pushed back. He said Gregg wasn’t sounding like the straight-talking politician he’s painted himself to be.
“You know I have 95 percent attendance rate in Congress,” Pence said before accusing Gregg of slip-sliding his way out of an earlier question about state budget deficits that occurred when Democrats were in charge of the House and the Governor’s office.