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Wed. night: No. 1 of 3 gubernatorial debates

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By Tim Grimes
TheStatehouseFile.com

Republican Mike Pence, Democrat John Gregg and Libertarian Rupert Boneham will have three chances to speak directly to the public when they meet for a series of debates beginning tonight in Zionsville.

It will be the first forum this year in which all three candidates appear on stage together and go head to head about the state's top issues.

But Robert Schmuhl, a professor of American studies at Notre Dame, said the gubernatorial debates won't drastically change how Hoosiers feel about the candidates.

"Whether we'll see dramatic change in poll numbers or a new dynamic to the campaign is highly doubtful – but you never know what to expect with a debate," Schmuhl said.

Pence, Gregg and Boneham are set to debate Wednesday at the Zionsville Performing Arts Center, Oct. 17 in South Bend and Oct. 25 in Fort Wayne.

The Gregg campaign said the debates are a good way for the Democrat to showcase his plan for Indiana and to distance himself from his Republican opponent.

"John is looking forward to talking directly to the voters about his vision for Indiana and how we can create jobs and strengthen our economy." said Daniel Altman, spokesman for the Gregg campaign. "The debates will show the contrast between John's commitment to bringing Hoosiers together and Congressman Pence's divisive social agenda."

Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Politics at Indiana-Purdue at Fort Wayne, said that the Gregg campaign will probably continue its attacks of the Pence campaign at the debates.

"The Pence campaign appears to have a sizeable lead and can continue to execute its strategy until there is an indication that the plan is not working any longer," Downs said. "The Gregg campaign likely will be looking for opportunities to go on the offensive and will try to find weaknesses they can exploit during the remainder of the campaign."

Last month, the Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll found that Pence had a 47 percent to 34 percent lead over Gregg.

Last week, the Pence campaign said the debates will be a good way for Pence to tell Hoosiers about his plans for education and job growth.

"Mike Pence has a vision for Indiana and a clear roadmap that focuses on creating new jobs and improving educational opportunities for Hoosier kids," said Christy Denault, spokeswoman for the Pence campaign.

But, despite the candidate's best attempts at messaging, Robert Dion, a political science professor at the University of Evansville, said something extraordinary would have to happen for the debates to make a significant impact on the polls.

"In the event that there is a spectacular meltdown by one of the candidates or some other incredibly newsworthy development, then there is the chance that the debate will get the attention of many Hoosiers across the state," Dion said. "This hasn't happened in the past, and it is unreasonable to expect that it will happen this time around."

Hoosiers can also submit questions for the governor's debate at the Indiana Debate Commission's website athttp://indianadebatecommission.com/. The commission will air the debates live on their website and make the broadcast available to public and commercial television and radio stations across the state. Check local listings to see when it will air.

Tim Grimes is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news web service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

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