Hoosier Musical Chairs

By Jim Ellis

July 19, 2016 — Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s selection as Donald Trump’s Republican vice presidential nominee begins an unusual succession process. Immediately, the members of the Indiana Republican Party’s State Committee must take action to choose replacement nominees for what is becoming a series of vacancies.

Friday was the state deadline to finalize the November ballot. Up until noon on July 15, candidates throughout Indiana could withdraw after winning the May 3 primary, leaving the affected political party structure in charge of selecting replacements. Never has the ballot deadline created such an active period.

Somewhat lost in the deadline flurry of activity surrounding Pence’s ascension to the national ticket, was the Democratic move earlier in the week when party leaders were able to convince ex-Rep. Baron Hill (D-IN-9) to withdraw from the Senate race and allow former senator and governor, Evan Bayh (D), to step in as the replacement.

The move clearly makes the Democrats more competitive against Republican nominee Rep. Todd Young (R-IN-9) who was cruising to the open seat victory against Hill’s moribund campaign effort. With Bayh now in the race, and his left-over $9.3 million campaign war chest accompanying him into political battle, this Senate campaign now features toss-up rating probabilities.

The Republican State Committee has 30 days to replace Gov. Pence as the party nominee, but the leadership is informing the individuals who have asked for consideration that they will vote on July 26. The quicker time frame would give the winner more time to compete against Democratic nominee John Gregg, the former speaker of the state House of Representatives who held Pence to a 49.5-46.6 percent victory margin in 2012.

Also right before the candidate withdrawal deadline, Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb and representatives Todd Rokita (R-IN-4) and Susan Brooks (R-IN-5) took action to leave their respective campaigns in order to become internal party candidates for governor. For those not chosen, the respective Republican committees can reinstate their nominations for the offices they currently hold.

The Indiana Republican State Committee will choose the next gubernatorial nominee and decide upon the lieutenant governor candidate, as well. The 4th and 5th District Republican Congressional District Committees will fill their respective vacancies.

The State Committee is comprised of 22 members. The four state Indiana Republican Party officers: chairman, vice chairman, secretary, and treasurer, and the chairman and vice chairman of the nine congressional districts. The Republican National Committeeman and National Committeewoman are non-voting members of the State Committee.

The congressional district committees feature a district chairman, vice chairman, male district committee member, female district committee member, and the county chairman and vice chairman of each whole or partial county within the CD.

Lt. Gov. Holcomb is a former state Republican chairman, and ex-aide to retiring Sen. Dan Coats (R). He originally jumped into the open Senate race, but when it became evident he was falling hopelessly behind Young and Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN-3), he dropped out of the race. The timing coincided with Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann resigning her position to become the president of a community college, so Pence appointed Holcomb to the vacated position. The appointed incumbent then won the GOP nomination for the post.

Holcomb argues he is best positioned within the state committee to win the nomination based upon his relationships with the members established while he was party chairman, and because he is already a statewide office holder. His two congressional member opponents stress that Holcomb has only been appointed to statewide office, and failed badly in the Senate primary.

Rep. Brooks cites her strong name identification in the dominant Indianapolis area, built from representing one of the metro area’s congressional districts and previously serving as the city’s deputy mayor.

Rep. Rokita twice won statewide office before being elected to Congress in 2010, that of secretary of state (two terms). He considered entering the open Senate race, and toyed with running for the open state attorney general’s contest before deciding to seek re-election.

Therefore, while Gov. Pence will be accepting the nomination for vice president at the Republican National Convention later this week, a very different form of politics is already underway concerning the Indiana political affairs that he leaves behind.

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