Brace yourselves for a rollicking GOP governor primary



CARMEL — In two months, Hoosier voters will be selecting nominees for their next governor. Former Republican school superintendent Jennifer McCormick will be the Democrat nominee, and Libertarians have nominated Donald Rainwater again. For Republicans, there are an unprecedented six candidates seeking to replace term-limited Gov. Eric Holcomb.

I say “unprecedented” because in the television age of Hoosier politics, the GOP primary race usually comes down to two or three candidates, like in 2004 when Mitch Daniels faced Eric Miller after the field winnowed. That six candidates are in the field in a race that will almost certainly exceed $20 million means that no one has consolidated a grip on the nomination ... yet.

U.S. Sen. Mike Braun is the perceived frontrunner. A poll this week by The Hill and Emerson College had him leading the field with 33%, followed by Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch at 7.2%, Fort Wayne businessman Eric Doden at 6.6% and former Commerce Secretary Brad Chambers at 5.2%. Also in the race are former attorney general Curtis Hill and businesswoman Jamie Reitenouer.

That leaves a whopping 43% undecided.

Brian Gramache, spokesman for the Doden campaign, observes that “despite spending more than $3 million, Mike Braun has slipped from 47% to 34% in the most recent public survey. That’s a 13-point drop in the polls without a dollar of advertising spent against him.” He cited internal Braun polls showing the senator with 40% in late December and 47% in late November.

So this race is in a state of flux, as to be expected. Coming next will be a spate of attack (or contrasting) TV ads. By this weekend, whether you are watching Fox59, CNN or Peacock, this race will switch into hyper-mode, and the gloves will finally slip off the brass knuckles.

“We will be the beneficiary of a seven-figure broadcast, mail, digital and streaming independent buy attacking Braun by this weekend,” Marty Obst, senior adviser for the Brad Chambers campaign, told Howey Politics/State Affairs Pro earlier this week.

But Obst contends that internal polling for Chambers about two weeks ago shows Braun’s support is shallow. “Braun’s numbers are weak and soft,” Obst said. “He will be vulnerable to attacks from Doden — and Chambers — affiliated PACs. The perception is that Braun is up with about 40%, but it is soft. Doden, Crouch and Chambers are crowded around second place.”

The Chambers campaign has spent $8 million thus far ginning up his name ID and positive message. Obst insisted Chambers wouldn’t have entered this race had there not been a “path” to victory.

Gamache added, “To date, the Doden campaign has spent less than $5 million on media and advertising, and thanks to our strong fundraising, we’re well-positioned to continue advertising competitively with the other campaigns.”

The Crouch campaign, which unveiled its first TV ad earlier this week, declined to specify how much it will spend. “It’s significant,” campaign spokesman Robert Vane said. “We will be on the air until May 7.”

Braun campaign spokesman Jahan Wilcox declined to specify how much the campaign has spent to date. (Obst says it’s about $3 million, but Howey Politics/State Affairs has not independently verified any of the ad expenditures.) “The rest of the questions pertain to strategy, and we don’t discuss that,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox confirmed Braun will not participate in next Monday’s first debate hosted by the Carmel Current at the Palladium. The sold-out event is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET and will be livestreamed at The campaign did not say why Braun will skip this debate but indicated he will participate in the other scheduled debates in March and April.

Perhaps the biggest advertising change comes with the expansion from broadcast, cable, mail and digital modes and into streaming services as more consumers cut their cable cords.

According to Maya Hoff of Marketplace, “Streaming services … are a relatively new territory for political advertising regulation. Since the FCC has no oversight over how political ads are streamed, the services are left to write their own rules and policies on the ads they choose and how they run them.”

Key questions heading into the final two months of the campaign:

1. Will former president Donald Trump come back to Indiana to campaign for his endorsed candidate, Sen. Braun? In 2018, Trump had multiple rallies for Braun, helping him upset Democrat Sen. Joe Donnelly.

2. Will candidates with the ability to self-fund - Braun, Doden and Chambers - write more big personal checks? Chambers just gave his campaign another $2 million on top of the $5 million he seeded last August.

3. Lt. Gov. Crouch will be freed from her Statehouse duties after the General Assembly’s sine die this weekend. She has been endorsed by more than 100 locally elected officials, including 27 in law enforcement and won recent straw polls in the 6th Congressional District and Tippecanoe County. Will that local support give Indiana Republicans their first female nominee?

4. Doden has raised close to $700,000 in large donations this past month (compared to $265,000 for Braun, $360,000 for Chambers and $210,000 for Crouch), suggesting he has some momentum.

5. After a generation of GOP campaigns without negative TV ads (by Govs. Daniels, Mike Pence and Holcomb) will the coming din turn off voters?

Stay tuned, folks.


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