Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Indiana governor: Daniels prevails after tough, costly slugfest

GOP hasn't held office in 16 years

By Ken Kusmer
The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS - Republican Mitch Daniels, who traveled the state relentlessly pledging to revive Indiana's economy and bring sweeping reforms to state government, defeated Gov. Joe Kernan in Tuesday's election to end a 16-year Democrat hold on the governor's office.

With 64 percent of precincts reporting, Daniels had 831,415 votes, or 56 percent, and Kernan had 647,511, or 43 percent, according to unofficial results tabulated by the Associated Press.

Daniels, the first-time candidate and former aide to Presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, returns the governor's office to the GOP for the first time since 1989, when Evan Bayh took office after beating then-Lt. Gov. John Mutz.

"I want all of you to know I've been waiting since 1988 for this night," Mutz said during a Republican celebration at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

The fieldhouse was packed with Daniels backers wearing green T-shirts and leis and headbands with elephants on them.

Behind the podium was a huge picture of "RV One," the donated recreational vehicle in which Daniels traveled the state, painting a down-home image that resonated with voters such as Tony Drabick of Greenwood.

"He seemed to be homegrown and he's got, I think, good visions for Indiana. He's got a good business background, and I think he's got some good insight on what direction the state needs to take," said Drabick, a retired postal worker.

Recent surveys had shown the race, the most expensive in state history, to be tight. Tensions between the campaigns simmered for months over jobs and government reform, but it became a slugfest in the end.

Kernan tried to paint Daniels as an outsider from Washington and as a greedy corporate insider for supporting the sale of Indianapolis utility IPALCO in 2001. Many retirees lost their life savings, Kernan's campaign contended, while Daniels and other board members sold their stock before the sale closed and made millions.

Daniels pounded on the loss of tens of thousands of Indiana jobs in recent years and said 16 years of Democratic governors left state government broke and rife with scandal. He accused Kernan of running a smear campaign over the IPALCO sale, saying he sold his stock when he did to meet ethical requirements of his new job as White House budget director.

Libertarian Kenn Gividen criticized both men for mudslinging, but his campaign never gained real traction.

Daniels pledged to revive and diversify Indiana's economy through business tax incentives and streamlined regulations. He promised to bring in a "new crew" to carry out aggressive government reforms.

He said legislators would find a giant stack of proposals on their desks come January, but the fate of those plans could hinge largely on which party controls the House. Republicans were expected to retain their grip on the Senate, but Democrats had a 51-49 majority in the House.

Kernan, who initially said he would not run for governor, changed his mind after being sworn into office in September 2003 following Gov. Frank O'Bannon's death.

Kernan said Indiana's economy was on the rebound, in part because of tax-restructuring and job packages he helped push through as lieutenant governor.

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