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Mike Pence, John Gregg

Candidates for Indiana governor, Democrat John Gregg, left, and Republican Mike Pence chat following a debate in Fort Wayne, Ind., Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012. Libertarian Rupert Boneham also participarted.

INDIANAPOLIS | Democrat John Gregg jumped first Thursday into the pool of candidates eager to challenge Gov. Mike Pence following the "religious freedom" debacle that significantly weakened Hoosier support for the incumbent Republican.

In a video message, the former House speaker, who narrowly lost to Pence in 2012, declared the governor's support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has cost Indiana jobs and made young people -- "the lifeblood of any state" -- less likely to want to live in Indiana.

"Instead of feeling welcome in Indiana people are turning their backs on us," Gregg said. "We know Indiana is better than the face Mike Pence has shown the world."

Gregg said the multimillion dollar public relations campaign Pence hopes will improve the state's badly damaged reputation won't be enough, and it doesn't do anything to help people across Indiana already working harder, but earning less, than Americans living in other states.

"Now his targeting of Hoosiers over their personal lives and his driving away employers has made a bad situation even worse," Gregg said.

That is why Gregg said he's running again: to be a governor who focuses on education and rebuilding Indiana's economy so it works for everyone.

Gregg vowed the only social issues he'll champion are repeal of the religious freedom law and enacting statewide nondiscrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

"If you think what Mike Pence did is wrong, then this is your fight too," Gregg said. "And believe me, it's a fight we'll win."

Whether Gregg is the choice of Hoosier Democrats to take on Pence remains to be seen. Pence may even face a Republican primary challenge.

Among Democrats, up to a half-dozen current and former local and state elected officials are said to be considering a run for governor, including Glenda Ritz.

The state superintendent of public instruction said Thursday she will decide by June whether to run for a second term or directly take on the man who repeatedly has sought to weaken her office and frustrated advancement of her education policies through his control of the State Board of Education.

"Indiana deserves better," Ritz said. "Perhaps the power of Indiana's politics will see balance after the 2016 election."

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