Eric Holcomb and John Gregg will debate on Tuesday and Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have their first debate on Monday. (HPI and CNHI photos)
Eric Holcomb and John Gregg will debate on Tuesday and Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have their first debate on Monday. (HPI and CNHI photos)

NASHVILLE, Ind. - A couple of decades ago, I had a chance to see and hear jazz great Dave Brubeck play the Elco Theater in downtown Elkhart. It was a mesmerizing concert.

At one point, Brubeck sat his piano in the spotlight and began a cadence, “The Peace of Jerusalem, the Peace of Jerusalem,” tapping his foot and clicking his fingers. His quartet picked up on the reponsorial and it sent great joy through the crowd.

After the concert, many of us crossed Main Street to Flytrap’s, a downtown restaurant, and as we sipped cocktails and awaited dinner, I could see a entourage cross the street. The door swung open, and there was Brubeck himself adorned in a great coat. There was a pregnant pause, one of almost disbelief, and this was followed by an emotional, rousing standing ovation. A great man was in our midst.

It was a spectacular display of the art of leadership: The broaching of a grand concept and then its articulation through a cultural media, hitting a chord with those who listened.

Politics is quite a different genre, I bring this up as Hoosiers and Americans prepare for one of the most fascinating, and potentially consequential two weeks in the early years of the 21st Century. On Monday, presidential nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will meet for the first of three debates, and the stakes are utterly epic. As Clinton put it earlier this week, “The next 50 days will determine the next 50 years.”

On a state level, gubernatorial candidates John Gregg, Eric Holcomb and Rex Bell will debate at 10:30 a.m. next Tuesday at Lawrence North High School, and then again on Oct. 3 at the University of Indianapolis. This is another race that could play a transformative role in where our state heads in the next four years. This comes after four controversial years under Gov. Mike Pence, who then dropped out of the race to join Trump on his ticket. In mid-stream, Holcomb went from being a U.S. Senate candidate, then the lieutenant governor for four months to the new nominee. He faces Gregg, the former Democratic House speaker who entered this race seeking a rematch with Pence.

In the gubernatorial race, both candidates are not widely known, with 31 percent in the Sept. 6-8 WTHR/Howey Politics Indiana Poll not knowing who Gregg is, and 44 percent who don’t know Holcomb. In the horse race, Gregg had a 40-35 percent lead, with the Libertarian Bell coming in at 6 percent. That leaves 16 percent who have yet to make a decision, a hefty number as we head into the final six weeks of this campaign. Both will become better known as we are now being bombarded with TV ads, which are essentially propaganda and cliches.

We live in a state where the economy is shifting. Jobs from coal mining to branch banking are rapidly changing. In the span of a century, we’ve gone from an agrarian economy, to manufacturing, then service, and now logistics, information and advanced manufacturing. Without proper education and training, a wide swathe of our population could be left behind. Even those who are well educated could find themselves out of main job, working two or three.

On top of these challenges, Indiana is facing drug and public health crises. As if methamphetamine production here isn’t bad enough, we are now faced with an even more sinister curve ball, cheap heroin mixed with carfentanil, with his filling emergency rooms from Columbus and Muncie to LaPorte and Martinsville. There were so many overdoses in Jennings County a few weeks ago that the state had to rush naloxone to public safety crews.

Hoosiers need good leaders. Many of us have a lot to learn about Gregg and Holcomb.

On the presidential level, Trump’s clarion call has been to “build a wall” with Mexico. Clinton’s overall message has been less clear. Anyone who reads this column on a regular basis knows I am deeply skeptical about Trump and his leadership abilities, as well as Clinton. In our WTHR/Howey Politics Poll, many Hoosiers are tormented by this choice. While Trump led Clinton 43-36 percent, on the “temperament” question, 45 percent found him “very poor” and 24 percent “mixed,” compared to 30 percent who found Clinton’s “very poor” and 23 percent “mixed.”

I have many discussions - some arguments - with Trump supporters. There is no convincing most of them otherwise. They want to blow the system up.

There’s a yard sign on State Road 229 north of Oldenburg which reads “President Obama, worst president ever and a big liar.” Next to it stands a Trump sign, though Politifact reports that almost three quarters of Trump’s statements are “false” or “pants on fire” lies. But in this week’s NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll, 41 percent felt Clinton had a problem with the truth, compared to 31 percent for Trump.

So leadership is in the eye of the beholder. Monday’s debate could be one of those events that sears a voter’s perception into a solid choice. It could change some minds.

It depends on how artful these potential leaders are.

The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.