The Indiana Republican State Committee just gave John Gregg, the Democrats’ candidate for governor, a gift.
The gift’s name is Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb, whom the committee named the new Republican candidate for governor. Holcomb takes the place on the November ballot that was reserved for Gov. Mike Pence, who is now Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s running mate.
Holcomb prevailed over three other candidates for the nod — U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, (R-Indiana), U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, (R-Indiana), and Indiana Sen. Jim Tomes, (R-Wadesville). Holcomb won in large part because Pence anointed him with an endorsement that stopped just short of slapping a cattle brand on Holcomb’s forehead.
That helps Gregg, whose campaign for governor thus far has consisted of three planks:
- Vote for me because I’m not Mike Pence.
- Vote for me because I’m not Mike Pence.
- Vote for me because, really, I’m not Mike Pence.
Pence’s governorship has been a turbulent one that has both alienated and energized significant pockets of Hoosier voters. Pence’s embrace of divisive social issues — the misnamed Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the nation’s most restrictive anti-abortion law, a hasty, mean-spirited and unconstitutional ban on Syrian refugees — has given pause to the state’s business community, embarrassed independent voters and motivated the Democratic base in a way Gregg himself never could have done.
Before Trump plucked Pence out of this predicament, there were persistent whispers that internal polls by both Republicans and Democrats showed Gregg pulling ahead in the race.
Given that Indiana is a Republican-leaning state and the Pence campaign had pounded Gregg steadily with a barrage of negative advertising, that was not good news for the GOP.
Pence’s elevation to the national stage gave Republicans a chance for a do-over. Instead, they chose to double down.
The official statement by the party’s chair, Jeff Cardwell, even gave Pence pride of place and announced Holcomb’s selection almost as an afterthought:
“We are very proud of Gov. Mike Pence, who has been nominated as our party’s vice presidential nominee….
“After the proceedings, I am proud to announce that Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb will be running as the Republican candidate for governor of Indiana. Today, we stand united and give our full support to Eric as we race towards victory in November.”
Gregg’s statement in response could barely contain his glee. He started out by taking a shot at the fact that Holcomb never has been elected to fill a public office by the voters and then proceeded to wrap Pence’s support around the new GOP candidate’s neck like an anchor and chain.
“I want to congratulate Eric Holcomb on this latest political appointment. While there may be a new name on the ballot, the issues remain the same. For too many Hoosier families, wages aren’t keeping up and the good paying jobs we are losing aren’t being replaced. Eric Holcomb wholeheartedly embraced the failed approach that embarrassed our state, cost us jobs and has left the middle class behind. My economic plan sets our state on a new path forward, one that puts jobs and the middle class first,” Gregg’s statement read.
I don’t know Eric Holcomb well, but people I respect have a great deal of admiration for him. They say he is keenly intelligent, hard-working and deeply devoted to this state and its citizens.
All of that may be true, but the fact is that he was the one candidate before the Republican State Committee who didn’t offer the GOP a chance for a fresh start.
Brooks probably was the candidate who would have created the most trouble for Gregg’s campaign. She has solid conservative credentials and the potential to bring moderates and even a few Democrats over to the GOP. At least part of the Democrats’ argument is going to be that the Republican Party is at best indifferent and at worst hostile to women and their interests.
That case would have been harder to make with a woman at the top of the GOP ticket.
But the state Republican Party went another direction.
And that’s why John Gregg has to feel right now that Christmas this year in fact did come in July.