The Indiana Republican Committee announced on Tuesday (July 26) that Lt. Governor Eric Holcomb will be the Republican party’s nominee for governor. Holcomb replaces Governor Mike Pence, who ended his bid for reelection to serve as Donald Trump’s running mate in the upcoming presidential election. Holcomb has served as Lt. Governor since March 2016, when Sue Ellspermann stepped down.
Holcomb has been involved in many political positions and campaigns throughout his career, however, he has never been elected to office. In 2000, Holcomb ran for the US House of Representatives against Democrat John Frenz. During the campaign, Holcomb’s team ran a negative ad* that is now widely believed to be misleading, and he ultimately lost the election. Beginning in 2003, Holcomb served as an advisor to then Governor Mitch Daniels. He played a vital role in Daniels’ re-election in 2008 and also worked as deputy chief of staff during the Daniels’ administration. He later held the position of Chairman of the Indiana Republican Party and served as Chief of Staff to US Senator Dan Coates. When Senator Coates announced that he would not be running for re-election in 2016, Holcomb stepped down from his position as chief of staff to enter the race for senator. Prior to the primary election, Holcomb withdrew his name from the ballot, and Governor Mike Pence appointed him as lieutenant governor.
During his short bid for senate, Holcomb debated Marlin Stutzman and Todd Young.** He advocated for a system that would track non-citizens after they enter the country and for cutting the corporate tax rate. He stated that he was the candidate who was “supportive of the LGBT community,” but his stance on specific issues was and remains unclear. The Indy Star notes that both conservatives who are opposed to and those who advocate for LGBT rights supported him in his Senate race. However it may be difficult for Holcomb to gain the support of those on both sides of this divisive issue as he runs for governor. Bill Oesterle, a gay rights advocate, initially supported Holcomb and formed a super PAC for Holcomb in his senate race; however, Oesterle later criticized Holcomb for his choice to accept the role of Lt. Governor under Mike Pence. Oesterle cited Holcomb’s choice to work with Governor Pence as the worst professional betrayal he has experienced in his career.
Undoubtedly, Holcomb’s nomination will have a major impact on the current gubernatorial race. During his campaign for senate, Holcomb frequently cited his time working with Daniels as evidence that he has the ability to create and execute plans that unite people with diverse political beliefs. He will likely continue to link himself to the former governor during the upcoming election as he attempts to bring together a divided party. Holcomb knows his opponent, John Gregg, well. During Holcomb’s time working for Daniels’ first campaign, Holcomb often contrasted Daniels’ vision for the state with that of the current state government. He scrutinized the actions taken by the state government, and at that time Gregg was the speaker of the House and played a visible and integral role in government as a Democrat.
As he begins his gubernatorial campaign, Holcomb faces a divided party and a state that is not very pleased with controversial policies implemented by Governor Pence. Holcomb will likely have to work to distance himself from the contention surrounding Governor Pence. Holcomb may face criticism for his misleading campaign tactics in 2000 and his role in Governor Pence’s administration. He will also need to build name recognition and put together his campaign rather quickly.
Much of Holcomb’s career has been working with other political leaders rather than working on his own political campaigns. Due to this, Holcomb has not taken a strong stance on many issues. This election gives him the opportunity to voice his own opinions and to create a strong platform. I hope to see him campaign on strong ideas rather than just linking himself with popular politicians and avoiding real policy. I look forward to seeing where he stands on the issues facing Indiana as well as hearing his specific plans for the state as he begins his campaign.
*The ad accused Frenz of supporting bestiality through a vote to give funding to the Kinsey Institute, a sex research center. Frenz had actually voted for the state budget which included funding for Indiana University, where the Kinsey Institute is located. (The budget included funding for other state universities as well.)
** In the primary election, Todd Young was chosen as the Republican candidate, and he will run against Democratic candidate Evan Bayh.