INDIANAPOLIS | Barring a personal or political catastrophe, John Gregg will be the Democratic nominee for Indiana governor next year.
On Tuesday, the former House speaker and past president of Vincennes University was endorsed by House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, and Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, on behalf of their caucuses.
The backing by legislative Democrats, combined with Gregg's numerous endorsements and millions in financial support from most of the state's labor unions, puts an all-but-insurmountable barrier in front of any candidate who might seek to challenge Gregg in the May 2016 primary election.
"It is time for Democrats to strongly rally around John so we're on the best footing to recapture the governor's office and build a new coalition to lead Indiana," Pelath said. "For the first time, in some time, we have very clear hopes of steering Indiana into a brighter future."
Pelath said a state government expert, like Gregg, who served 16 years in the Indiana House, is best suited to repair the damage inflicted on Indiana by Republican Gov. Mike Pence, who only served in Congress prior to narrowly defeating Gregg for governor in 2012.
"I think many (voters) have buyer's remorse and realize that had we had John in office the past several years, Indiana would be on a much stronger footing," Pelath said, citing the national embarrassment of Pence's 2015 "religious freedom" law and "an infrastructure that is literally sinking into the ground."
Lanane proclaimed himself satisfied that summertime challengers to Gregg's nomination, including state Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, decided party unity is better than a divisive primary fight.
"There has been a process there, but you get a sense of the way things are headed, and my sense was that John Gregg has run a very effective campaign up to this point in time, and he is the person to lead our party," Lanane said.
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, Jr., who repeatedly has hinted at his interest in the governor's race and is perhaps the only Democrat with the political experience and indifference to insider party politics needed to take on Gregg, also seemed to admit the race is over.
"Quite frankly, running against John Gregg would be very hard because he's done his homework, he's done a good job," McDermott said. "If I had to predict right now, I think Pence and John are going to be running against each other."
A Gregg-Pence rematch would mark only the second time in Indiana history that two gubernatorial candidates faced each other in back-to-back elections.
In 1831, Noah Noble, a Whig, defeated Democrat James Read to win a three-year term as governor. Noble also prevailed in 1834 when Read challenged him a second time.