Monday, August 15, 2016

Race of the Day-Indiana Governor

84 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Open
2012 Presidential Result: Red State (Midwest)

Outlook: Tossup (D)

Politics in the Hoosier State have been turned upside down, at least to some extent, in the past month or so. There have  been some musical chairs in regards to candidates running for different offices, months after the May primaries.

First term Governor Mike Pence, a staunch social conservative, was seeking reelection, as of early July. Despite the GOP leaning nature of Indiana, he won a closer than expected race in 2012 against his Democrat opponent, former State House Speaker John Gregg. Pence publicly considered, but ultimately passed on a bid for President, amid some controversial issues in Indiana, in which Pence's stance angered many gay and lesbian activists, and then when the Governor backtracked, left conservatives displeased as well. In spite of all that, Pence could point to a strong economy in Indiana, relative to the rest of the country, during 12 years of GOP Governorships. He was facing a rematch against Gregg, whom the party moved to back, after potential primary opponents stood down, and the race was expected to be close once again. Nonetheless, most observers believed that Pence was at least a slight favorite.

Then, a month ago, Pence was selected, amid a tumultuous process and rollout to be Donald Trump's running-mate on the national Republican ticket. Pence, who had endorsed Ted Cruz before his state's primary, but continued to say positive things about Trump, clearly wanted the job, and in accepting, it necessitated his need to drop out of the race for Governor. The relationship between Pence and Trump and what it may mean for the remainder of this campaign, and Pence's political career moving forward will be stories for other days.

With this vacancy, the Indiana Republican Party was tasked with replacing Pence on the ballot. Many Republicans seemed interested, and some believed that the party would now have an even better chance of winning without the somewhat controversial Pence seeking another term. U.S. House members Todd Rokita and Susan Brooks both briefly dropped out of their reelection bids to try to be slated as Governor, but they were passed up by the committee, in a vote total that was not released, and have jumped back into their old races. Ultimately, it was Pence's running-mate, Lt. Governor Eric Holcomb who was selected, with Pence's open support to succeed him. Holcomb has picked State Auditor Suzanne Crouch to run with him for Lt. Governor, while Gregg is running with State Representative Christina Hale on the Democrat ticket.

Running for Governor is the third office that Holcomb has sought this year. The former Gubernatorial advisor and State GOP Chairman, was Chief of Staff to U.S. Senator Dan Coats, when the incumbent announced he would not seek another term. Holcomb quickly jumped in the race to succeed his boss, with some establishment support, but he did not seem to have the name recognition or profile to compete with two other primary contenders. In February, Holcomb dropped out of the Senate race, but just days later a new opportunity suddenly opened up, that perhaps he was well aware of at the time of leaving the Senate field. Pence's female Lt. Governor has resigned to take another job, and the Governor selected Holcomb to fill the vacancy as Lt. Governor and to be his running-mate in the 2016 election. Now, after all this maneuvering, Holcomb probably thinks he is in line to have the best job out of them all.

This is a difficult prediction to make, and I certainly hope that Holcomb wins a full term and keeps the Governorship in Republican hands. I feel at least somewhat better about him as a leader at this point than I do about his current boss, Mike Pence. Polling is scarce in Indiana though, due to regulations against robocalling, so there may not be much data to go on. Recently, some internal Democrat data is showing that Gregg holds a narrow lead over Holcomb.

When all is said and done, Indiana may do what it has done in every Gubernatorial race since 2004 and elect a Republican. Holcomb can point to some positive economic figures of course, but I feel that he may have a tough time and that the Trump-Pence ticket is going to turn out to be more of a negative than a positive in Indiana. Pence's image is probably weakened as being seen as overly subservient to Trump, and by nature of his job as Lt. Governor, Holcomb may be seen as being subservient to Pence. It just feels like an uncomfortable setting for all involved, with the blame originating with the impending Trump disaster. I tend to think that either of the Congresspeople who ran, one of whom was a past statewide winner, would have been stronger replacements for Pence. I also wonder if there is any consideration for the lame duck Pence, just resigning altogether, allowing Holcomb to ascend to become Governor before the election, in case that would make voters any more reluctant to dump him, but it probably would not matter.

Right now, the race for Indiana's electoral votes could go either way, there is a contest for Senate that seems like a complete crapshoot at the moment, and the eventual outcome of the Gubernatorial race is murky. Indiana is conservative leaning, but Barack Obama won it in 2008, and there will be a lot of motivation on behalf of Democrats to turn out to vote against both Trump and Pence. A Libertarian candidate might eat into the GOP vote total as well.  If John Gregg can convince voters he would govern as a moderate, or in the tradition of past Indiana Democrat Governors, Holcomb might wind up as an innocent victim of the state's political developments.

Holcomb campaign link:

Governor races predicted thus far: 2 D (1 Safe, 1 Tossup) 0 R
Overall predicted thus far: 13 D, 27R


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