A 1996 style assignment for Hoosier GOP delegates


INDIANAPOLIS — When Indiana Republican convention delegates gather on June 15, they’ll have an extraordinary assignment they’ve not had since 1996: Selecting a lieutenant governor nominee.

Yes, delegates ratify the statewide ticket every four years, but this year there are two active candidates for LG, gubernatorial nominee Mike Braun’s choice of state Rep. Julie McGuire of Indianapolis, or Noblesville pastor Micah Beckwith. Normally, the nominee for governor chooses a running mate.

In 1996, Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith easily defeated Rex Early and George Witwer in the primary with 55% of the vote. “We just came through a primary where two-thirds of the Republican county chairmen endorsed Rex,” Goldsmith said. “And I think it’s important to reach out to those county chairmen, and it is also important to reach out to delegates at the convention.”

While Goldsmith took a hands-off approach, Braun and McGuire as well as Beckwith have been actively meeting with delegates. The Braun campaign sees in McGuire a fresher face, a conservative, a woman. McGuire has been spending six to eight hours of the day on the phone at GOP headquarters contacting delegates, and then hits the road for three or four hours meeting with more in the evenings.

“His entrepreneurial spirit, the way he’s ready to run this state, I love the agenda, I love that he’s ready to be bold and we need that in Indiana,” McGuire told delegates in Merrillville, according to a report from NWI Times reporter Dan Carden. In Fort Wayne on Saturday, Fox 55 reported that though McGuire is in the midst of her first term at the Statehouse, Braun said he is impressed. “The number of people that wanted to be lieutenant governor, none of them were focusing on the most important thing,” Braun said. “How do you work with the Legislature? Do you understand the process, and are we going to be synced up on what we need to do?”

McGuire told Fox 55, “We want a united party. Mike wants a partner. I’m doing something I love to do. That’s work on public policy. I’m a learner. I’m a collaborator, and I think my background has been receptive.”

Beckwith, who finished a distant third in the 2020 5th Congressional District primary, began his LG campaign positioning as a check on Gov. Eric Holcomb. He’s been critical of Holcomb’s pandemic era policy of social closures, masking and vaccinations. His campaign emailed supporters a photo of Albert Einstein, who “once said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That’s why I have broken with tradition and I am running for Indiana lieutenant governor to be your voice.”

Hoosier Republicans have had a long history of rebuking their leaders, as they did in 2008 when they rejected Gov. Mitch Daniels’ endorsed candidate for attorney general, or in 2022 when they defeated Gov. Holcomb’s secretary of state choice. And I’ve covered a number of congressional and legislative caucuses over the years and, invariably, there are candidates who thought they had commitments to go over the top, but then fell well short of victory.

George B. Witwer, publisher of the Bluffton News-Banner, finished third to Goldsmith and Early in the 1996 GOP primary. Witwer learned of Goldsmith’s lieutenant governor decision “at the same time everyone else did.”

Witwer’s lieutenant governor campaign was atypical, jamming a year’s worth of stumping in six weeks. “It was kind of spontaneous,” Witwer said. “People kept reaching out to me.” 

“The situation was very different in 1996,” Witwer said. “Rex still had quite a bit of support when the convention came around. The convention was not united behind Steve.”

Braun won the six-person primary with just under 40%, meaning that 60% of voters backed someone else. Since then his primary rivals in Eric Doden, Brad Chambers and Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch have closed ranks behind him.

Witwer was endorsed by Indianapolis News publisher Russ Pulliam and former Gov. Doc Bowen, but Secretary of State Sue Anne Gilroy appeared to have momentum on the eve of the convention as the candidate list grew. A “hard delegate count” I got wind of on the convention floor minutes before the first ballot had Gilroy at 750, Witwer at 650 and Friend at 500.

Then came the first ballot, which Howey Politics described as a “thunderclap”: Witwer 826, Gilroy 524, and Rep. Bill Friend at 448. “A benign kind of pandemonium broke out to the right of the stage after the first ballot totals emerged,” HPI reported. “The remaining contenders sought out one man, Marion County Chairman John Sweezy.”

Witwer approached Sweezy: “We want to cooperate with you.” But Sweezy was adamant, declaring, “We’ll stay with Sue Anne on the second ballot.”

On the second ballot, Witwer rolled to a 1,121-542 victory over Gilroy to clinch the nomination. “Someone told me I won Marion County on the second ballot,” Witwer told Howey Politics once the dust had settled. “There were many delegates who voted their conscience.”

Witwer, who is not a delegate this month, is ardently backing Braun and believes McGuire should be nominated. “Mike is in a fabulous situation,” Witwer said.

So while Braun and McGuire as expressing confidence that they will prevail a couple of Saturdays from now, the proof will come in that final roll call.


Brian Howey is senior writer and columnist for Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs. Find Howey on Facebook and X @hwypol.