By John Celock
A new poll shows that Hoosiers are on the verge of returning the governor’s mansion to Democrats in the wake of Gov. Mike Pence’s (R) decision to run for vice president.
A Monmouth University poll released Friday shows that Democratic gubernatorial nominee John Gregg, a former state House speaker, leading Republican Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb 50 percent to 38 percent. Holcomb, who became the gubernatorial nominee after Pence left the race to become Donald Trump’s running mate, had been running even with Gregg earlier in the campaign. Gregg had been competitive with Pence before Pence left the race.
The Indiana governorship has been a top national target for Democrats since 2015 when Pence signed legislation that would allow business owners to refuse service for same sex weddings on the basis of religious objection. The legislation, which ignited a national fire storm, was later amended amid criticisms that it would allow businesses to refuse service to all members of the LGBT population. The legislation led to Pence’s previously strong approval ratings to drop.
Gregg has kept his name recognition among Democrats high since his 2012 race, positioning himself to make a gubernatorial run this year. Holcomb, though, is seeking his third statewide office this year. Holcomb, a former top aide to former Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) and former state Republican Party chairman, had announced for the U.S. Senate last year following Sen. Dan Coats’ (R) retirement announcement. He later dropped the Senate bid earlier this year and accepted Pence’s appointment to the lieutenant governorship after Republican Sue Ellspermann stepped down. Holcomb was picked by state Republicans to succeed Pence as the gubernatorial nominee in August.
Democrats have not held the governorship since 2004, when Daniels defeated then Gov. Joe Kernan (D). Daniels was succeeded by Pence four years ago. Democrats had held the Indiana governorship for 16 years prior to Kernan’s defeat.
The state’s competitive Senate race remains closer, with former Sen. Evan Bayh (D) leading U.S. Rep. Todd Young (R) 48 percent to 42 percent. Bayh entered the race over the summer, making the race to replace Coats one of the most competitive in the nation. Bayh, a former two term governor, had held the Senate for 12 years until 2010, when he retired and was succeeded by Coats, who had held the seat for a decade prior to him. The seat was held by Bayh’s father, Birch, for 18 years until his defeat in 1980 by future Vice President Dan Quayle, who had previously employed Coats as a top aide.