Sen. Braun wearing a GOP primary target


INDIANAPOLIS — Of the six Republicans seeking the gubernatorial nomination on May 7, U.S. Sen. Mike Braun is the one with the proverbial target on his back.

He entered this week’s two-debate sequence still as the widely-perceived front-runner (an Emerson College poll earlier this month had him leading by more than 20% with 34%, probably enough to win the race if it were held in March).

According to AdImpact, Braun had been outspent on the TV ad race $11 million to $2 million this past month. As of March 13, the Brad Chambers campaign had spent $5.7 million, the Eric Doden campaign $4.1 million and the campaign of Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch $1.15 million. Most of the Doden and Chambers buys were devoted to attack ads and contrast ads against Braun, who had $1.8 million in the ad pipeline, compared to just over $100,000 for his three primary challengers.

On the night of March 22, a shallow backwater of the World Wide Web lit up: U.S. Sen. Braun had missed a $1.2 trillion budget vote. The Doden campaign’s spin was this: “Braun’s campaign sent a desperate fundraising solicitation to supporters just hours after skipping the vote. In it the campaign said: ‘We may have to scale back our get-out-the-vote efforts if we don’t hit our goal. And with less than two months until Election Day, that would be devastating for our campaign.’”

The Importantville substack site followed with this post on X: “Braun’s explanation for missing the vote was literally no, I didn’t miss it because of a fundraiser that ended at 7 p.m on Friday night but because actually I wanted to go home and sleep in my own bed.”

When four of the six candidates gathered for the Fox59/CBS4 debate Tuesday night, the “missed vote” storm had passed. It never came up.

During the debate, Chambers was asked to identify opponents feeding the public what he had called “stale soundbites and lousy results.” He responded, “Sen. Braun has been down for three or four photo ops at the border and nothing’s changed. There was a bipartisan bill … a month ago. He was quoted in the paper saying, ‘We don’t want to vote on that because we don’t want to help [President] Biden. That is not serving Hoosiers. [Braun is] now on his third position on qualified immunity. No one in Indiana can unsee the Tucker Carlson interview and in his own words talking about Black Lives Matter being a great institution.”

Braun responded, “Everybody clearly knows when I made that reference that was to somebody exercising their 1st Amendment rights. That was never, ever to support an umbrella group, BLM. Hoosiers know that. That’s been out there for four years. You can try that kind of retread, but when you’re doing that it’s because you’re in single digits” in the polls.

Chambers also cited Sen. Braun’s vote against U.S. Sen. Todd Young’s CHIPS Act, which is creating thousands of jobs in Indiana.

Braun then took aim at Chambers over the LEAP Lebanon Innovation District: “This guy over here has been with his fat-cat buddies,” Braun said of Chambers, pointing to a contribution from former Eli Lilly CEO John Lechleiter (who gave Chambers $25,000 on Feb. 26 and $10,000 to Crouch). “Competition, transparency, spread the wealth on economic development. That’s not been occurring under his regime,” Braun said.

That exchange had whiffs of a 2004 exchange between Gov. Joe Kernan and Republican challenger Mitch Daniels. When Kernan attacked Daniels on the prescription drug issue, Daniels turned the tables and said, “I never thought I’d hear an Indiana governor bash Eli Lilly.”

Chambers, Doden and Braun continued to spar over the LEAP District, of which Eli Lilly and Company would be a key investor and tenant. Chambers defended his two years heading the IEDC for $1 a year, saying it had “record results, higher wages, investments all over the state. So I am flattered the business community supports my campaign.”

Braun also attacked Doden’s tenure at the IEDC: “When he was involved in economic development, he had issues where he wasn’t actually doing things to help small towns. He was maybe trying to help his own friends and business. He got an ethics watch about it and ignored it four times.”

At the WISH-TV debate on Wednesday, Braun received incoming from Chambers, Doden and former attorney general Curtis Hill, who wasn’t invited to the Tuesday event. Lt. Gov. Crouch, however, mostly abstained from criticizing Braun directly during the debate. She is hoping that Chambers and Doden rough up the frontrunner, giving her a lane to emerge as the winner on May 7 with the $5 million she has.

Hill lambasted Braun for the latter’s claim of being a political “outsider,” saying the senator has “been in the system long enough.” Chambers arguing that a candidate who has been on the ballot as often as Braun couldn’t hold the title. Braun, a state lawmaker from 2014 to 2017 and a U.S. senator since 2019, said he still considered himself a political outsider, choosing to define the term by “what you have done for most of your life.”

Braun added that the “ultimate outsider” ­— former President Donald Trump — had endorsed him.


Brian Howey is senior writer and columnist for Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs. Find Howey on Facebook and X @hwypol. State Affairs reporter Jarred Meeks contributed to this column.