Braun leads in GOP primary


INDIANAPOLIS — The current six-person Republican field for governor is an anomaly. In the television age of Hoosier politics, the GOP usually sorts out the candidates, so there are only one or two by the February primary filing deadline.

Past Republican nominees and governors were not “outsiders” – as two of the candidates in U.S. Sen. Mike Braun and Brad Chambers – are claiming to be this cycle.

They have been ultimate insiders: Edgar Whitcomb sought the office while serving as secretary of state; Doc Bowen as speaker of the House; Richard O. Ristine, Robert Orr and John Mutz as lieutenant governors; Linley Pearson as attorney general; David McIntosh and Mike Pence as congressmen; Mitch Daniels as an out-going White House budget director; and Eric Holcomb as a former aide to Daniels, U.S. Rep. John Hostettler and U.S. Sen. Dan Coats (before he became a state GOP chair and then lieutenant governor).

Since Mitch Daniels won the nomination in 2004, Republicans have resisted the angry, grainy attacks ads against each other and Democrat nominees.

In a poll of likely Republican and GOP-leaning independents conducted for State Affairs/Howey Politics Indiana on April 4-7, some 44 percent of respondents picked Braun. Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch trailed with 10 percent, and Chambers and Eric Doden each received 8 percent. Curtis Hill and Jamie Reitenour got 2 percent each, with 26 percent of poll respondents undecided.

This online survey comes after Chambers and Doden spent more than $19 million combined on TV advertising, according to AdImpact. While some of that spending went to basic biography spots, much of it was aimed at Braun over issues such as police qualified immunity, the southern border and a podcast where Braun suggested he might attend a Black Lives Matters rally. During that same time, Braun spent $7.7 million, while Crouch spent $2.6 million.

“That is what we call a very commanding lead, where he’s 4-to-1 greater above each of the opponents,” Ken Alper, president of SurveyUSA which conducted the poll, said of Sen. Braun’s strength. “He’s well ahead among every demographic. It looks like it might be closest to moderates, but it’s more than 2-to-1 where he’s at 38 percent among moderates, while it’s 16 percent for Suzanne Crouch.

“It’s sort of a blowout,” Alper said of Braun’s lead in the poll.

Crouch had hoped to be in second place at this point in the campaign, poised for a breakout with $5 million to spend on a final media push. That strategy hinged on Chambers and Doden attacking Braun, thus softening him up. Crouch has not aimed any advertising at Braun to date. Alper said the 2% separating Crouch from Chambers and Doden was “negligible” after he was asked about which candidate was best poised to become Braun’s key challenger.

“Being a month out [from the primary] there would have to be a pretty significant stumble to cause a change in this,” Alper said, underscoring the widespread observation going into this election cycle that this was Sen. Braun’s race to lose.

Like 2018 when Braun upset two congressmen in the primary before defeating Democrat U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, he has the endorsement of Donald J. Trump, who has an 83 percent approval in the State Affairs/HPI survey, despite facing 88 criminal charges. The survey found that 17 percent of Hoosier Republicans have an unfavorable opinion of the former president.

Epic, game-changing “stumbles” do happen, like the one in the 2012 U.S. Senate race between Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly and Republican Richard Mourdock, who tripped up during a statewide debate question on the abortion issue. The Donnelly-Mourdock race had been within the margin of error of every media, internal and advocacy group poll before the fateful Oct. 23 debate in New Albany. When the Howey Politics/DePauw Poll did its final survey, Donnelly jetted out to an 11% lead at 47 percent-36 percent on the way to a 5 percent upset plurality that November.

Toward the end of the first homestretch debate at the Carmel Palladium in mid-March, former attorney general Curtis Hill wondered why Braun was seeking the governor’s office if his one term in the U.S. Senate had been so successful. “I thought he was very well equipped for the job,” Hill said. “He talks about how tough it is in D.C. I want him to go back and continue the fight; he gave up the fight. Will he give up the fight as governor?”

Braun responded, “I spent 37 years building a little scrappy business into a regional, national and international company. And that is what I ran for Senate on. It resonated overwhelmingly. If you like me as your senator you’ll like me better as governor.”

Throughout Indiana history, former Indiana governors ranging from Oliver P. Morton to Evan Bayh – found career ending refuge in the U.S. Senate. Braun is doing it in reverse fashion. “You know why?” he asked at his unassuming office at Meyer Distributing in Jasper. “Because they’re from the farm system of politics. The people who got done being governor just weren’t done with politics. They wanted to continue. My blessing is I did something in the real world first before I decided to get into politics at a level of significance.”

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.

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.

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