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Indiana’s About to Get a Trumpy New Governor

Sen. Mike Braun is favored to win next week's primary and then coast to the governorship in the fall. Meanwhile, does it matter that Donald Trump is late in setting up his campaign's ground game?

Indiana Sen. Mike Braun
Sen. Mike Braun will likely soon move back to Indiana as governor. (Photo Courtesy of
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Indiana’s About to Get a Trumpy New Governor: Six years ago, Mike Braun was a relatively little-known businessman who defeated two sitting members of Congress in the Republican Senate primary in Indiana and then knocked off a Democratic incumbent to win the seat. Now, he’s in the pole position to be elected governor.

The race to succeed term-limited GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb attracted six Republicans for the May 7 primary, but there’s not much doubt that Braun will emerge victorious – and then almost certainly be elected to lead the solidly red state in the fall. Public polling in the race has been sparse, but Braun’s lead has been massive. He not only enjoys name recognition as a senator, but has the all-important endorsement of former President Donald Trump, who’s been a leading co-star in Braun’s advertising.

Polls have indicated there are plenty of undecided voters, but the large field means they haven’t coalesced around an alternative to Braun. Suzanne Crouch, the lieutenant governor, has raised plenty of cash and has some high-profile endorsements, but she appears to be held back by her association with Holcomb, a once-popular governor whose approval ratings among Republicans have taken a hit due to his support for school closures and mask mandates in the early days of the pandemic. Brad Chambers and Eric Doden, both former state commerce secretaries, have spent millions but don’t seem to have broken through with voters. Curtis Hill, a former state attorney general, has been dogged by allegations of sexual misconduct. “If anything, it’s less about Braun’s strengths, perhaps, than the weakness of his opponents,” says Laura Merrifield Wilson, a political scientist at the University of Indianapolis.

The election has been dominated by discussion of culture war issues, such as banning diversity initiatives and, particularly, pledges to send the National Guard to the Mexican border to restrict immigration. Braun missed the final debate last week due to a Senate vote in D.C. “Tonight, I am in D.C. voting ‘no’ on a bill to send $95 billion of your money overseas instead of securing our open southern border, which puts Hoosier families in danger every day,” he said.

Gov. Holcomb took to social media back in March to complain that the candidates weren’t talking about the issues directly related to governing the state. Perhaps that’s one reason many voters remain undecided. More likely, though, it’s a sign that races for governor, like other elections, are increasingly concerned with national issues rather than anything state-specific.

Former President Donald Trump delivers remarks to supporters at a rally behind the Schnecksville Fire Hall in Schnecksville, Pa.
Trump has long relied on rallies to motivate supporters.
Elizabeth Robertson/TNS
Trump’s Non-Campaign Experiment: Trump’s own campaign is off to a slow start. For one thing, the candidate is spending much of his time in a Manhattan courtroom. But Trump’s fundraising has lagged, with much of the money going not to campaign activities but to paying legal bills.

All of this is allowing President Biden a head start when it comes to certain campaign operations. For one thing, Biden had $130 million reserved for fall air time before Trump had reserved even a penny’s worth. Biden has also been able to open dozens of field offices in the major battleground states, while Trump has none.

How much does this matter? Trump has been a believer in running field offices, opening the largest number and devoting the most resources to them of any Republican over the past couple of decades, according to Joshua Darr, a Syracuse University political scientist who studies field offices and their effects. In the COVID-impacted election four years ago, Trump’s campaign had about 300 field offices, while Biden had none.

Field offices provide a central gathering and training place for volunteers, who have been shown to be persuasive in getting their neighbors out to vote. Building up that kind of human capital takes time. “Activating networks of activists and giving them a central point of coordination can be very helpful,” Darr says. “In general, knocking on doors is considered to be the best way to get people out to vote.”

Granted, most of the studies looking at the effects of personal voter contact examine low-profile local races, where motivating the electorate is key. It should matter less in a presidential race. On the other hand, recent polling shows that this year’s election, featuring two unpopular candidates, is drawing less interest at this point than any presidential election in the last 20 years. There’s no guarantee that turnout this year will match 2020’s historic highs.

That points to a potential vulnerability for Trump. In the past, he has managed to expand the electorate, bringing out lots of people who vote only sporadically. Another recent poll found that he has much higher levels of support among people who have seldom voted since 2018 – only one time or not at all – than among those who vote regularly. In other words, Trump’s chances will be better if turnout is higher.

In what looks certain to be a close election – at least in the states that will matter – small factors might make a big difference. Trump still has time to get field operations up and running, but not unlimited amounts of time. “Any time after mid-August, how are you going to train and connect people in that short of a time?” Darr says. “I believe the quality will not be there, compared to a well-cultivated network of trained, enthusiastic volunteers.”
Spencer Cox.
Getting booed at Utah's GOP convention doesn't mean Spencer Cox will have to leave the governor's mansion.
(Alan Greenblatt/Governing)

Odds and Ends: Two state legislatures have had the odd circumstance lately of members voting while facing criminal complaints. Sen. Nicole Mitchell, a Minnesota Democrat, faces burglary charges but returned to the capitol to cast votes on Monday – one of them against a motion to strip her of her vote pending an ethics investigation...

In Pennsylvania, Democratic Rep. Kevin Boyle cast votes by proxy while wanted by police for violating a restraining order. The warrant was later withdrawn, but Boyle lost his seat in a primary last week…

Florida, once a key swing state, continues to grow more red. The state GOP’s advantage among registered voters has just crossed the 900,000 mark, representing a total swing of 1.1 million over the past four years…

The effort by a group of billionaires to create a new city in California reached an important milestone on Tuesday. Their campaign announced it had collected enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot in Solano County, where the city would be located...

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox got booed by delegates at the state GOP convention over the weekend, earning support from less than a third of them. That probably won’t matter. Eight years ago, GOP Gov. Gary Herbert also lost at a convention but went on to win the primary with nearly three-quarters of the vote, and took the general election handily.

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Alan Greenblatt is the editor of Governing. He can be found on Twitter at @AlanGreenblatt.
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