AP NEWS

3 Republicans file for governor: Brooks Holcomb, Rokita

July 16, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS – It was a frenzied 50 minutes Friday morning as Gov. Mike Pence officially abandoned his re-election campaign and three state and federal office holders dropped off the ballot to seek his spot.

“It’s the darndest musical chair act I’ve ever seen,” said Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne.

Pence’s elevation to vice presidential running mate for Donald Trump set the wheels in motion. Immediately after Pence withdrew from the race, so did Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb, U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, R-5th, and U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, R-4th. All three can later seek to be placed back on the ballot for their current offices if their bid for the governor’s race fails.

“I personally think because Eric Holcomb is our lieutenant governor, that he’s ready for the job and would be outstanding,” Long said. “But Susan Brooks is a serious rising talent in the Republican party and is eminently qualified. So is Rokita. It’s not a matter of qualifications. I think they can all do the job and be very effective.”

Now the focus moves to the 22-member Indiana Republican State Committee. Only 12 votes are needed to choose the next GOP gubernatorial nominee.

The caucus for the governor vacancy has been set for July 26 and the lieutenant governor caucus for Aug. 1. Anyone wanting to run can file for the caucus up to 72 hours in advance. A few outside names, including a few current or former mayors, have been swirling.

Allen County has two people on the committee – 3rd District Chairwoman Barbara Krisher and 3rd District Vice Chair Bill Davis. Neither returned messages Friday seeking comment.

Much of the action for the next week will likely be in Cleveland, where many of the committee members are attending the Republican National Convention. There will be lots of insider talks, negotiations and pressure.

It is also possible that the candidates could coalesce on a specific governor-lieutenant governor team.

“They are going to have a bruising fight behind closed doors to determine who is going to emerge,” said Democrat House Leader Scott Pelath. “These folks that signed up are not known statewide.”

But he says their gubernatorial candidate – Democrat John Gregg – has been on television statewide since the primary election and has visited every county. He also came close to beating Pence in 2012.

“The good news is we are ready for a change in direction. John Gregg has a great start for governor,” Pelath said.

He and Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody downplayed the hit the change in candidate will have on Gregg’s campaign, which has focused primarily on ousting Pence and calling into question his policies.

“What doesn’t change is that the brand of leadership in Indiana will be Mike Pence’s brand of leadership and an open seat for governor is an advantage for us,” Zody said.

Holcomb filed his withdrawal paperwork in person Friday, playing up his four months in office since Pence appointed him to replace outgoing Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann. He also noted he worked for and with former Gov. Mitch Daniels for eight years.

Another advantage for Holcomb is that he ran the Indiana Republican Party for three years and knows many of the people who will make the final decision.

“I look forward to continuing the success here in Indiana and being able to share my contribution and my participation in getting this state back on track, on course, and moving full steam ahead,” Holcomb said.

Rokita is likely the long-shot candidate even though he is in his sixth year in Congress and served two terms as Indiana Secretary of State.

He cited the success Republicans have had steering the state compared with when Democrats were in charge.

“We went from backwater to cutting edge,” Rokita said. “But states now have woken up around us and they are looming ever larger in our rearview mirror so we have to keep pushing.”

He said he doesn’t hide from the fact that he is a social conservative but will focus first on jobs and the economy – “that’s why I’m running.”

Brooks didn’t file her paperwork in person and didn’t release a statement.

Earlier in the day, longtime Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said he would not seek the post.

“With the recent tumult in our state’s political landscape, it is crucial that Hoosiers have a tested conservative leader at the helm as we work to retain our Republican House Majority, and long term as we continue the work on making Indiana the envy of the nation in job creation, fiscal integrity and infrastructure investment,” he said.

Former Gov. Mitch Daniels – now president of Purdue University – removed himself from the speculation Thursday.

“Ordinarily, it’s neither necessary nor good practice to comment on hypothetical questions. But this year and the current political situation in Indiana is extraordinary to say the least. So I think it is appropriate that I make plain today that, should there be a sudden need to name a new nominee for governor, I will not present myself as a candidate nor would I accept the nomination if offered.”

nkelly@jg.net