The ideological rift between Indiana gubernatorial candidates U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, a Republican, and former Democratic state House Speaker John Gregg widened Tuesday as each appeared with his new running mate.
Moments after introducing his running mate, state Rep. Sue Ellspermann, at a Fort Wayne campaign stop, Pence highlighted his conservative stance on social issues by praising the Fort Wayne-South Bend Catholic diocese for taking on the Obama administration.
A host of Catholic groups across the country, including the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese and the University of Notre Dame, sued Monday over a mandate requiring some faith-based organizations to cover birth control costs for employees.
“I strongly opposed Obamacare and government mandates associated with it,” Pence told The News-Sentinel. “I applaud the leaders of the Catholic Church for standing up for the religious liberties of all Americans.”
Meanwhile, Gregg announced Tuesday his choice of longtime state Sen. Vi Simpson, an abortion rights supporter and one of the General Assembly's most left-leaning politicians, as his running mate.
A message left for Gregg's campaign seeking comment was not immediately returned Tuesday.
Gregg has tried to paint himself as a moderate, no-nonsense Democrat who generally avoids polarizing social issues. But Pence, a conservative Christian, appears ready to dive into hot-button topics more than fellow Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, who famously called for a “truce” on social issues.
Still, Pence on Tuesday described job creation as “job one” for his campaign. He deflected questions about his choice of a woman to run with him for lieutenant governor, instead touting Ellspermann’s business background.
“At the end of the day, I just looked at her qualifications and her experience,” Pence said.
Ellspermann has run the University of Southern Indiana’s Center for Applied Research, which focuses on helping businesses, and previously did business consulting work. Pence said the two would start revealing detailed job-creation packages “in the next couple of weeks.”
“There’s been policy teams at work for a long time, and I look forward to joining that process. Stay tuned,” Ellspermann said. Pence said their job-creation plan would focus on tax relief, adding that he would like to give some of the state’s surplus back to taxpayers.
Former Fort Wayne mayoral candidate Paula Hughes introduced Pence to supporters Tuesday in a hangar at Fort Wayne International Airport. She said she was “thrilled” with Ellspermann’s selection as Pence’s running mate.
“I think it is smart to involve smart people in a campaign,” Hughes said. “The fact that she is a woman is secondary.”