CARMEL — There’s a political reason that, should he be reelected, Gov. Eric Holcomb will appoint a superintendent of public instruction. Look no further than the nationally watched 5th Congressional District, where former Republican Supintendent of Public Instruction. Suellen Reed endorsed Democrat Christina Hale on Wednesday in her race against Republican Victoria Spartz.
Appearing in a TV ad with her husband, Phil, the Reeds introduced themselves as “lifelong Republicans.” Supt. Reed then says, “Cooperation, collaboration and compromise, that’s the way we get things get done.” Later, Reed adds, “She seeks common ground. That’s how democracy works. We’re voting Republican ... and for Christina Hale.”
Reed’s endorsement makes it two out of the last three Republican superintendents to back Hale, who has been endorsed by current Supt. Jennifer McCormick. Former superintendent Tony Bennett has not weighed in.
Governors of both parties have long salivated over the opportunity that likely faces Holcomb after the election. Reed was the Republican who served with Democratic Govs. Evan Bayh, Frank O’Bannon and Joe Kernan. Gov. Mike Pence served his four years with Democrat Supt. Glenda Ritz.
Gov. Mitch Daniels helped engineer Reed’s exit from the GOP ticket in 2008 and he worked in tandem with Supt. Bennett to bring the historic education reforms of 2011 to fruition. Bennett was an enthusiastic disciple as he pushed for the A-to-F grading for schools, new teacher evaluations, increased flexibility for hiring non-traditional educators and part-time teachers, an expansion of charter schools, as well as the initiation of vouchers. But Bennett was upset by Ritz in 2012.
McCormick’s nomination in 2016 was supposed to bring a Republican education realignment with Gov. Mike Pence. But Pence bolted to join Donald Trump’s ticket that July, Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb was nominated by the Republican State Central Committee later that month, just weeks after McCormick won the GOP nomination, dispatching Fort Wayne educator Dawn Wooten 1,030 to 574.
In her pitch to the Republican convention, McCormick said, “This is a great day for the Republican Party. I bring strong experience as a teacher, principal and superintendent. People understand there are situations that need to be fixed. We have to put students before politics. Indiana students deserve to be put first. There is no wiggle room for political squabbling with our students’ education on the line.”
McCormick announced in 2018 she wouldn’t seek reelection, citing politics. She had departed from GOP orthodoxy on issues ranging from testing to charter school funding. “We can get things done for kids but when the governance structure is becoming a problem for kids that’s not why I intended to get into office,” McCormick said.
The General Assembly passed and Gov. Holcomb signed the law creating the appointed superintendent and by the summer of 2019, McCormick was fully off the GOP reservation, appearing at a series of town halls with a Democratic gubernatorial candidate while flirting with a potential lieutenant governor nomination. So far this year she has endorsed a half dozen Democrats for the General Assembly, and now Hale.
The Indiana Republican Party has removed all references from its website to McCormick and Attorney General Curtis Hill, who was nominated with McCormick in 2016. Hill was denied renomination after a 2018 groping incident and a 30-day Indiana Supreme Court suspension. In modern Hoosier politics, it’s unprecedented how far McCormick and Hill had strayed from the mainstream party and its governor.
Hale’s strategy in what appears to be the only competitive congressional district in the state is using known Republicans to signal to others in the party that it’s OK to vote to send a Democrat to Congress. “Dr. Reed has dedicated her career to serving Hoosier students and families. She and Phil care deeply about our community and I’m so proud to have their support,” said Hale. “It’s clear that Hoosiers are tired of the partisan politics and gridlock. They want a representative who will go to Washington, reach across the aisle, and get things done for this district.”
The other big story out of the 5th CD is that money continues to spill in to this tossup race. Spartz announced her campaign raised $1.1 million in the third quarter. She raised $900,000 and loaned her campaign another $200,000, following close to $1 million in loans prior to the primary. Hale posted $1.7 million in 3Q funds last week, citing 14,000 unique donors, of which 89% were $100 or less.
Hale has raised more than $3.1 million, while Spartz has raised $2.3 million, of which around $1 million was loaned from the candidate. Millions more are coming from the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and affiliated super PACs.
The 5th CD is competitive this cycle because, in part, of the alienation by President Trump that has sparked a hemorrhaging of support of college-educated white suburban women. “They don’t want to have anything to do with Donald Trump, especially now,” political analyst Bill Schneider told The Hill. “They don’t like him. They don’t like his attitude. They don’t like the way he governs.”
The Cook Political Report cited 11 races it is watching, with the 5th CD among three open seats. Should Hale win, it would be the first time the 5th has flipped from the GOP in more than three decades.
The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.