INDIANAPOLIS — Republican Mike Pence won election Tuesday as Indiana governor, extending his party’s control of the state’s top office at the same time voters ousted the incumbent GOP state schools superintendent.
Pence defeated Democrat John Gregg by a margin that was significantly less than what Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney captured to carry the state.
“Tomorrow a season of service begins,” Pence told supporters in declaring victory. “I will work every day to earn your trust as we build a more prosperous future for all the people of our state.”
Democrat Glenda Ritz defeated Republican state schools Superintendent Tony Bennett in what many viewed as a referendum on the education overhauls that Bennett had pushed. Republican Attorney General Greg Zoeller won a second term as the state’s top lawyer, and Republicans were adding to their advantage in the General Assembly.
Pence’s victory followed a campaign in which he started as the better-known candidate and had a strong fundraising advantage in the race to succeed term-limited GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels.
With about 90 percent of the statewide vote tallied, Pence had about 50 percent of the vote to about 46 percent for Gregg. That compared with about 55 percent for GOP presidential candidate Romney, who carried the state.
Pence has been in Congress for the past 12 years, gaining national prominence as a social conservative. He focused his campaign on economic issues and brushed off attacks suggesting that he will push contentious social issues, even as he proposed using traditional marriage as a tool to reduce poverty and improve the economy.
Gregg, a former Indiana House speaker, positioned himself as a candidate who would bring a bipartisan approach to the governor’s office.
That appealed to Jordan Fischer, 25, of Indianapolis, who said he was worried about most of his friends leaving the state after college.
“I found Pence to be very divisive,” Fischer said. “I found his stance on most social issues to be disagreeable.”
But Daniels’ popularity after his eight years as governor boosted Pence among some voters.
“A lot of it for me is feeling comfortable with Pence continuing to carry on the initiatives put in place by Gov. Daniels,” said Joe Reece, a 34-year-old software salesman who was in line when the polls opened at his precinct on the north side of Indianapolis.
Republicans entered Tuesday’s election holding strong majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly.
Republicans were looking to win a supermajority in the 100-member Indiana House so they could conduct business even if no Democrats are present. That push follows walkouts by House Democrats the past two years to stall action on the GOP-backed right-to-work law and other labor and education proposals.
Republicans had a 60-40 House advantage the past two years and need to win 67 seats to gain the two-thirds majority to thwart walkout threats from Democrats. Republicans also maintained the supermajority they have in the state Senate.
Republicans won at least four House seats from Democrats — defeating Democratic Reps. Peggy Welch of Bloomington and Phil Pflum of Richmond and capturing open seats given up by retiring Democratic Reps. Craig Fry of Mishawaka and Dave Cheatham of North Vernon.
In a matchup of two incumbents in southwestern Indiana, Democratic Rep. Kreg Battles of Vincennes held an 89-vote advantage over Republican Rep. Bruce Borders of Jasonville out of nearly 25,000 votes cast. Democrat Christina Hale held 44-vote lead over Republican Rep. Cindy Noe of Indianapolis.
Many teachers backed Democratic candidate Ritz against Bennett, who pushed for approval of the state’s private school voucher program and has overseen the first state takeover of troubled public schools.
Zoeller, who faced Democrat Kay Fleming, has defended in court a GOP-backed state law seeking to cut off much of Planned Parenthood’s government funding because it provides abortions. He joined other Republican state attorneys general in challenging the federal health care overhaul.
Pence voted Tuesday morning at a fire station in his hometown of Columbus, where he was joined by his 18-year-old daughter, Audrey, a senior in high school who was casting her first ballot.
“I felt pretty good about her vote this morning. ... She did give me a high five when she came out of the voting booth, so I’m feeling pretty confident about her,” Pence said with a laugh.