INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana's gubernatorial candidates say their campaigns are about creating jobs and cutting taxes, but their first round of campaign commercials, which get them the most exposure with voters, have skipped most of that serious talk.
Republican Mike Pence has run six ads since May, starting with a pair of light biopics, and only touched on some of his proposals in his most recent ad.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg has mocked Pence for his fluffy campaign spots, using an ad image of Pence ice skating to accuse Pence of skating on the issues.
But when it came time to air his first ad, Gregg went light himself, avoiding serious discussion of tax and economic policy in favor of a homespun tale about friends from his hometown of Sandborn looking out for each other. The spot had some pundits in Indiana and Washington scratching their heads in search of its point.
"The message is pretty simple: I am who I am and shaped by the way I am, by where I was born," Gregg said. "I come from an area like all areas in Indiana where people are concerned about other people, and I would have a government that's concerned about Hoosiers."
Pence spokeswoman Christy Denault says Pence's campaign spots are being well-received. She declined to comment on Gregg's new spot.
"Everywhere he goes, Mike Pence gets compliments on the positive campaign ads and the substantive ideas he's putting out," she said. "His vision of making Indiana the state that works and his ideas for how we make that happen are resonating with voters around the state."
It's not as though either candidate is short on proposals for how to run Indiana.
Pence has rolled out plans to improve vocational education, cut income taxes and partner universities with businesses to increase research. Gregg, too, has talked about cutting taxes on gas and corporations, while saying more state contracts should go to Indiana businesses.
So why the soft sell? Because it's the often the first impression candidates make on voters.
"Textbook campaigns tend to come out of the gate soft and biographical," said Robert Dion, a political science professor at the University of Evansville. "You would never want to come straight out of the gate guns blazing."
Dion points out that policy detail often hits the air later in the most derided part of a campaign: negative advertising.
The scrapping between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney offers a preview of just how nasty this race could get. The two sides have swapped accusations of who would toss more elderly out of the Medicare program and who's more American, relying on highly selective facts and information in a race many Washington pundits are calling the nastiest they've ever seen.
They're probably right to hit each other so hard, Dion said, noting that research shows negative ads linger in voters' memories longer than positive spots like what Hoosiers have been seeing.
So far, the Indiana battle, with odes to war veterans and small-town friends, is a long way from the scrapping of the presidential race. But it's not hard to foresee localized blasts about the value of an income tax cut versus the elimination of the sales tax on gas, or even a hit mining Gregg's voting record at the Statehouse or Pence's in Congress.
"If they ran the ads we're watching now in November, it would be almost meaningless," Dion said.
So give it a few more weeks -- that debate on substance might just hit the airwaves and leave a nasty taste all the way to Election Day.
Which is ironic, Dion notes, because observers tend to say