The Latest: Holcomb, Gregg genial in final Indiana debate

INDIANAPOLIS (AP/NETWORK INDIANA) – The last of three debates in Indiana’s race for governor produced disagreements Tuesday night, while still maintaining the cordial atmosphere of the first two.

Democrat John Gregg and Republican Eric Holcomb staked out opposite stances on Sunday alcohol sales, medical marijuana and abortion legislation. And, as they have throughout the campaign, they differed on the shape of Indiana’s economy.

Gregg concedes the state’s record employment levels, but argues incomes haven’t followed suit, with the 13th lowest median income in the nation. He argues the state has fallen behind on road and bridge repairs. Holcomb repeatedly pointed to his service as Governor Mitch Daniels’ deputy chief of staff, recalling how Daniels “found a way” to complete I-69 and other road projects which had languished for decades. He boasts those projects and Indiana’s balanced budget were prerequisites for an influx of high-paying jobs he argues is now beginning.

Other issues uncovered differences not between Holcomb and Gregg, but Holcomb and Governor Mike Pence. The Lieutenant Governor’s platform has largely echoed Pence’s, but he said he’d ask legislators to let county health departments begin needle exchange programs on their own without awaiting permission from the state. And he expressed a willingness to pardon Keith Cooper, an Elkhart man who served 10 years for armed robbery before witnesses and D-N-A evidence belatedly pointed to another man. While Pence has said Cooper should go through the courts, Gregg and Libertarian Rex Bell say they’d pardon him immediately. Holcomb says he’d want to see facts beyond what he’s read in media reports, but says if further review backs up those stories, he’d pardon Cooper as well.

Holcomb opposes legalizing Sunday alcohol sales, saying the ban is an appropriate limit on a regulated product. Gregg acknowledged being taken off guard by the question, but says he’d review the specific wording of a bill to lift the ban and “would very likely sign it.” And while Holcomb says he opposes legalizing medical marijuana, Gregg and Bell say they’d support it. Gregg recalls his father’s death from cancer, and says if doctors had recommended marijuana for pain relief, he wouldn’t have hesitated to embrace it.

Holcomb closed Tuesday night’s debate by saying he would strive to be the state’s most accessible governor. Gregg said he would be a uniter and never embarrass the people of the state.

Those statements came a short time after the debate moderator mixed up the candidates, prompting Gregg to joke that they’ve spent $10 million so that people know who’s who.Gregg cracked that he’s the tall one, while Holcomb stands several inches taller. Holcomb replied, “I’m the hair-challenged one” next to the bald Gregg. They then traded a semi high-five/fist bump.

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