POLITICS

Mike Pence Gets A Democratic Challenger For Indiana Governor's Race In 2016

04/30/2015 01:17 pm ET | Updated May 01, 2015

WASHINGTON -- Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) picked up a Democratic challenger Thursday, setting up a rematch against the man he narrowly defeated in 2012.

Former Indiana state House Speaker John Gregg (D) emailed supporters his announcement Thursday afternoon.

"After much thought and deliberation, I have decided that I cannot sit back and watch working Hoosiers fall further and further behind," he said. "Under Mike Pence Indiana has been given a bad name. His sole focus seems to be on social issues and telling people how they should live their lives."

(Watch his announcement video above.)

Gregg is the first major candidate to step in to challenge Pence, who is up for re-election next year. It comes as the state is still reeling from the controversy over its new "religious freedom" law, which drove away businesses and organizations that were afraid it would allow for discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

Pence eventually backtracked and agreed to a legislative "fix" that clarified LGBT discrimination was not allowed under the measure. But the harm had already been done. The state has spent $2 million to hire a public relations firm to repair its image, and there is speculation that Pence could even face a primary opponent.

"The governor had done what he said he wasn't going to do," Gregg told the Indianapolis Star in an interview Thursday. "I thought he was going to focus on the economy, I thought he was going to focus on creating good paying jobs and improving our education system. He's focused on nothing but social issues, which was his record in Congress, and those social issues do nothing but divide us."

A recent Howey Politics Indiana poll shows Pence's favorable rating at just 35 percent, and his unfavorable rating at 38 percent.

Another recent poll by the Human Rights Campaign found that if Pence ran against Gregg, each would get 47 percent of the vote.

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