INDIANAPOLIS | Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg may be running the folksiest attack ads in the history of political campaigning. And his rival, Republican Mike Pence, is so positive in his ads, a casual observer might not even realize he has an opponent in the Nov. 6 race.
The former Indiana House speaker last week released a third television ad criticizing his Republican opponent, Mike Pence, and accusing the six-term Congressman of planning to drain Indiana's rainy day fund. Earlier Gregg ads noted Pence missed 86 percent of Congressional committee votes and supports legislation limiting women's access to health care.
But unlike typical negative campaign ads with their scary-voiced narrators and distorted black-and-white photos, Gregg's commercials feature himself, along with residents of his tiny hometown of Sandborn, Ind., making the point that Pence is not like "real" Hoosiers.
For his part, Pence has avoided negative campaign ads altogether in the race for governor. The Republican swore off negative campaigning following a vitriolic -- and unsuccessful -- 1990 run for Congress.
The Gregg ads all open with the same twangy background music and Gregg introducing himself as "the guy with two first names running for governor." But seconds later, Gregg shreds Pence's record or proposed governing agenda, all while keeping a smile plastered on his face.
For example, in the ad "Two Kinds," Gregg details the differences between Sandborn's Christian preacher and Pence, listing the many things the minister does each day even though he "gets paid next to nothing" compared to Pence, who earns $174,000 a year in Congress "and hasn't passed a single bill."
"I'm proud to say that we've run a constructive campaign," Pence said of his upbeat TV ads. "I've stayed focused on Indiana's future and prosperity for all Hoosiers."
Pence, however, hasn't stopped his surrogates, such as state Republican Party Chairman Eric Holcomb, from swiping at Gregg. But in his commercials, Pence speaks optimistically about his plans "to make Indiana the state that works" without acknowledging he even has an opponent.
Gregg said his ads, which have been on the air five consecutive weeks, have "made all the difference in the world" in terms of name recognition, fundraising and spreading his message.
"These ads are a very unique way of telling a real, serious matter," Gregg said. "This is a way for Hoosiers to get to know me."
Both candidates will find out this week whether Hoosiers like what they see. On Thursday, the Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll, co-sponsored by The Times, will report the most up-to-date public opinion results in the race for governor. Pence led Gregg by 13 percent in the March survey.
Regardless of who's ahead, all Hoosiers win when a candidate refrains from using terms of disgust in negative ads, said Daniel Kelly, associate professor of philosophy at Purdue University.
Kelly said it's tempting for candidates and others involved in politics to use words or images in connection with an opponent or cause that are likely to elicit disgust -- think poster-sized images of aborted fetuses -- because they produce a powerful emotional response.
But, he said, the tactic is morally amiss and detrimental to the political system.
"You don't have a rational debate then. You just have demonization," Kelly said.