BATTLE GROUND, Indiana — The reelection campaign of Gov. Mike Pence would like nothing more than to see Hillary Clinton and John Gregg together on the same stage, their arms raised, beaming and waving.
When Clinton appeared before the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Indianapolis last weekend, you could almost hear Hoosier Republicans praying that Gregg would bound up on the stage and give Hill and big ol’ hug.
Pence deputy campaign manager Marc Lotter explained, “She was here last Sunday and he was not anywhere to be seen. I’m not going to speak for his reasons. He is trying not to be seen next to Hillary Clinton. There’s no question that John Gregg and Hillary Clinton are ticket mates and allies. He chaired her 2008 campaign. He maxed out for her during this primary cycle” he said of money the former speaker donated to the Clinton campaign. “Given her position on many issues that fall directly against common sense beliefs and the values of Hoosiers, it’s important for voters to know.”
This linkage comes as Clinton and presumed Republican nominee Donald Trump sport historic negatives: 55 percent for Clinton in an ABC/Washington Post Poll last week and 70 percent for Trump. Pence needs Trump voters, in fact he needs every Republican voter he can find in order to fend off Gregg in what is essentially a tossup race because Pence is not in good standing with independents, moderates and the so-called suburban soccer moms.
Indiana Democrats don’t have to link Pence to Trump. The governor did that himself two days after the May 3 primary, when he said in Terre Haute he would support and campaign with Trump.
John Gregg has, rhetorically, been much more inconspicuous with Hillary Clinton. “In 2008, John was a private citizen,” campaign spokesman Jeff Harris said of the year when the former House speaker was one of 10 honorary co-chairs for Clinton. “This year, he is focused on his race. The two are very different. Once the nominee is determined, there will be opportunities to campaign and he’ll support whoever the Democratic nominee is. While it looks like it will be Secretary Clinton, he’ll wait for the final determination.”
Hillary Clinton made about a half dozen appearances before the May 3 Indiana primary and Gregg never joined her. He did attend a Steelworkers rally at the Statehouse whereBernie Sanders spoke later – they did not appear together – but Harris said that was the nominee showing solidarity with the union and soon-to-be unemployed Carrier workers. Sanders won the state with 53 percent as Clinton invested little time and no money or TV ads.
Would Gregg campaign with her once she wins the nomination? “It’s too early to tell,” Harris said. “We don’t know if (Indiana) will be a targeted race. We’re working on our race. We’re focused on our race and our schedule. I don’t want to speculate.”
Is the Gregg campaign fearful of Clinton’s negatives? “John is running his own race,” Harris responded. “We’re running against Mike Pence, while Mike Pence will do everything to nationalize this race. We’re going to focus on Mike Pence’s record and John Gregg’s issues. Everything else is noise.”
Now, conventional wisdom would have you believe that Clinton has no chance at carrying Indiana’s 11 Electoral College vote and that she could bring Gregg down with her. But CW has been trashed this year. Trump won the Indiana primary with 53 percent of the vote in a winnowed field. Indiana has gone Democratic only twice since 1964, with President Obama winning the state in 2008 by a little over 25,000 votes over Republican John McCain, 49.9 to 49 percent.
As Obama did in 2008, the Clinton campaign will make a determination on whether she needs Indiana’s 11 votes to reach the coveted 270 needed for victory. In 2008, Obama invested time and money in Indiana, opened up more than two dozen field offices and made dozens of appearances, and he won. In 2012, the Obama campaign didn’t need Indiana and he still received 44 percent of the vote. Obama had a compelling case to make here in that election, with the 2009 domestic auto restructuring saving about 150,000 jobs. Cities like Kokomo, Marion, Bedford and Fort Wayne are in much better shape than they would have been if Chrysler and General Motors had liquidated.
There’s a reason why a number of political prognosticators such as University of Virginia Prof. Larry Sabato and his Crystal Ball have Indiana shaded light red, a “likely” or “leans” Trump state as opposed to the bright red “safe” Republican state. A national Fox News Poll out on Thursday is revealing. Not only is Trump trailing Clinton 44-38 percent (Clinton was up 3 percent earlier this month), but Trump has lost 8 percent among Republican voters, with just 74 percent backing him. Some 51 percent of Republicans would prefer another nominee. Some 70 percent of Republicans view Trump as “hot-headed” and “obnoxious.”
John Gregg and Hillary Clinton campaign together this fall? That will be a game time decision.
The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at howeypolitics.com. Find him on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.