Pence, Christie back different Indiana governor candidates
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Donald Trump’s running mate Mike Pence and surrogate Chris Christie, once competitors to become the Republican vice presidential pick, now are backing different candidates in the scramble to succeed Pence as Indiana’s governor.
The 22-member Indiana Republican state committee will vote Tuesday to choose a Republican gubernatorial candidate to replace Pence on the November ballot.
Christie, the New Jersey governor who Trump chose to lead the transition should he be elected president, sent the panel a letter Sunday endorsing U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, who is locked in a tight competition with Indiana Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb, who Pence endorsed last week.
“As a past chairman of the Republican Governors Association, I’m prepared to help Susan become the next governor of Indiana,” Christie wrote to the committee, which will select a replacement for Pence during a closed-door meeting. “I have committed to Susan that I will work with her and my national network to raise what she needs to win.”
A spokesman for Pence could not immediately be reached for comment, but in an emailed statement, Holcomb spokesman Pete Seat brushed off Christie’s meddling in Indiana politics.
“We believe the endorsements of over 100 Hoosier community, political and grassroots leaders — including our own Governor Mike Pence — speaks to the strength and energy our campaigns has here at home,” Seat wrote.
The campaign to replace Pence on the ballot has remained intense since Pence withdrew from the governor’s race on July 15, after Trump plucked him to be his running mate. That set off a flurry of behind-the-scenes angling from advocates for Holcomb, Brooks and U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, who are all considered to be contenders for the job.
At least three members of the state committee are publicly backing Holcomb, as are several other top Republican officials and donors.
Committee member Jamey Noel, who is the Clark County sheriff, said he believes it is natural for Holcomb as lieutenant governor to replace Pence as the GOP nominee against Democrat John Gregg in the November election.
Noel said Holcomb’s knowledge of the Pence administration and his campaign operation would be an important boost following the first such summer time gubernatorial candidate switch in modern Indiana history
“He’s in the best position here in very short notice, roughly 100 days, to be able to pick it up and be elected as our next governor,” Noel said.
Holcomb, a former state Republican chairman who has never been elected to office, has touted his eight years as a top aide and campaign manager to former Gov. Mitch Daniels and four months as lieutenant governor. Pence picked Holcomb after his 2012 running mate, Sue Ellspermann, resigned in March.
Brooks and Rokita have less public support but are continuing to press their cases following a week of jockeying for the nomination with state committee members during last week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Brooks’ campaign highlighted the endorsement from Christie, who was a U.S. attorney at the same time Brooks held the top federal prosecutor position in Indianapolis under President George W. Bush.
Christie’s letter to Indiana GOP committee members said the Republican Governors Association would give financial support to whoever the committee picks. That message follows a weekend letter from Holcomb to state committee members suggesting that another candidate might not get help from Pence’s $7 million campaign fund should GOP leaders go against the governor’s wishes.
The RGA has donated more than $2 million in ads and cash to Pence’s campaign.
“Susan has a demonstrated record of winning tough elections,” Christie said. “I also believe that having an accomplished woman at the top of your statewide ticket in Indiana will draw even more support and attention to this race from across the country.”
When if the selection of Brooks would be embarrassment for Pence, Holcomb responded: “Tomorrow will be here soon enough.”