Mike Pence and Indiana’s Deep Freeze

Ambitious Indiana Republicans thought they saw openings at the top of their party’s ticket—but now it appears those may have been a mirage.

Pence: Ready to rumble.
National Journal
March 8, 2015, 4 p.m.

For a stretch this winter, it was an ex­cit­ing time to be an am­bi­tious In­di­ana Re­pub­lic­an. Gov­ernor Mike Pence ap­peared poised for a pres­id­en­tial run, and re­ports sur­faced that Sen. Dan Coats was con­sid­er­ing re­tire­ment. For politi­cians look­ing to move up, the pos­sib­il­ity of two of the state’s three most-power­ful seats open­ing up at once was an en­ti­cing pro­spect.

But weeks have turned to months, and Pence has neither an­nounced he’ll launch a cam­paign nor put to­geth­er the fund­ing to do so, and Coats his kept his cards close. Now, a host of Re­pub­lic­ans as­pir­ing to high­er of­fice have grown anxious, eagerly await­ing news of wheth­er Pence or Coats is go­ing to leave them an open­ing—and wor­ry­ing that the an­swer may be neither.

Roughly half a dozen In­di­ana Re­pub­lic­ans are said to be quietly weigh­ing their op­tions should Pence pur­sue a White House bid or Coats chooses to re­tire next year, though none are thought to be likely to chal­lenge their party eld­ers in a primary if they seek reelec­tion. Wan­nabe can­did­ates in­clude mem­bers of In­di­ana’s con­gres­sion­al del­eg­a­tion, state le­gis­lat­ive lead­ers and statewide of­fice­hold­ers.

“Out of de­fer­ence to [Pence] and his stated timeline to make a de­cision, few in­di­vidu­als have ex­posed their am­bi­tions pub­licly, but I’d say there are un­doubtedly con­ver­sa­tions tak­ing place be­hind the scenes about ‘what if he de­cides to make a bid’ or ‘what if he gets the vice pres­id­en­tial’ nom­in­a­tion,’” said Pete Seat, a former com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or for the In­di­ana Re­pub­lic­an Party. “People kind of have all those scen­ari­os in the back of their head.”

They may not have to wait much longer: Pence is giv­ing him­self un­til late spring to con­tin­ue weigh­ing a pres­id­en­tial bid. In In­di­ana, can­did­ates for statewide of­fice aren’t al­lowed to fun­draise dur­ing the le­gis­lat­ive ses­sion, so even if Pence is plan­ning to run for gov­ernor, he has little in­cent­ive to go in­to reelec­tion mode be­fore the le­gis­lature ad­journs in late April. And even if he isn’t run­ning for pres­id­ent, there are ad­vant­ages to keep­ing quiet and keep­ing his name in the con­ver­sa­tion.

Coats said in late Feb­ru­ary that he’ll de­cide by April 5—open­ing day for the Chica­go Cubs—wheth­er he’ll seek reelec­tion. If Coats chooses to re­tire from the Sen­ate, it wouldn’t be the first time. He an­nounced his re­tire­ment from the cham­ber in 1996 by not seek­ing reelec­tion in 1998, be­fore mak­ing a comeback bid in 2010.


As­pir­ing Gov­ernors

State Sen. Jim Mer­ritt is the only GOP of­fi­cial so far to have made a pub­lic de­clar­a­tion of in­terest in Pence’s seat should he seek the White House, but oth­er top Re­pub­lic­ans be­lieved to be in­ter­ested in run­ning for Pence’s seat should he step aside in­clude In­di­ana House Speak­er Bri­an Bosma and Lt. Gov. Sue Ell­sper­mann.

“The con­ven­tion­al wis­dom is that [Bosma] is just sit­ting there wait­ing for Pence to pur­sue the pres­id­ency. His team is pre­par­ing for that,” ac­cord­ing to one In­di­ana Re­pub­lic­an.

When asked about his in­terest in high­er of­fice, Bosma in­dic­ated he’d con­sider either seat if it be­came avail­able. After prais­ing both Pence and Coats, Bosma said “I’ve really en­joyed serving as speak­er of the House over the ma­jor­ity of the last dec­ade. I feel like we’ve been able to make a big dif­fer­ence for Hoo­siers here in In­di­ana, and if either one of those op­por­tun­it­ies came up I would cer­tainly have to think about where I could best serve Hoo­siers for the fu­ture.”

In the scen­ario that Pence runs for reelec­tion as gov­ernor but is chosen as the GOP vice pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee next sum­mer, the In­di­ana Re­pub­lic­an State Com­mit­tee would gath­er to choose a re­place­ment can­did­ate for the gov­ernor’s race. Both Bosma and Ell­sper­man would be con­sidered po­ten­tial re­place­ments.

Ell­sper­man spokes­man Den­nis Rosebrough in­dic­ated that the lieu­ten­ant gov­ernor would make no pub­lic state­ment on Pence’s situ­ation un­til or un­less something con­crete happened that changed the dy­nam­ic of the race. “I think we have to let a se­quence of events hap­pen be­fore she would make any pub­lic pro­nounce­ment of her in­terest or lack there­of,” Rosebrough said.

As­pir­ing Sen­at­ors

The three names most fre­quently talked up by In­di­ana politicos as po­ten­tial Re­pub­lic­an re­place­ments for Coats come from the state’s con­gres­sion­al del­eg­a­tion—Reps. Marlin Stutz­man, Todd Young, and Todd Rokita. However, when asked who would be on a list of those likely to try and suc­ceed Coats, Dan Park­er, a former ad­viser to In­di­ana Sen. Evan Bayh, warned “If Coats de­cides not to run, that [list] could be a mile long.”

Stutz­man and Young’s am­bi­tions for high­er of­fice are re­l­at­ively trans­par­ent. Stutz­man ran for Sen­ate in 2010 but lost to Coats in the Re­pub­lic­an primary be­fore opt­ing to run for his cur­rent House seat. Young won a small amount of at­ten­tion when he changed the do­main name of his cam­paign web­site two years ago from ToddYoung­for­Con­gress.com to simply ToddYoung.org, im­ply­ing he had big­ger plans ahead.

Rokita also spent eight years as In­di­ana sec­ret­ary of state be­fore he was elec­ted to Con­gress in 2010, and is thought to be eager to re­turn to a statewide role, re­gard­less of wheth­er it be as a mem­ber of the Sen­ate or as gov­ernor.

Across the Aisle

On the Demo­crat­ic side, 2012 gubernat­ori­al nom­in­ee John Gregg and former Rep. Bar­on Hill have ex­pressed in­terest in run­ning for gov­ernor in 2016, and for Gregg that means even if it in­volves run­ning against Hill in a primary.

Gregg has been work­ing since Decem­ber to con­sol­id­ate sup­port among or­gan­ized labor and party lead­ers, in­clud­ing a vis­it with the Demo­crat­ic Gov­ernors As­so­ci­ation in D.C. in Feb­ru­ary. Re­pub­lic­ans tend to view Gregg as the big­ger threat between the two due to his name ID gained from his nar­row loss to Pence in 2012—he lost by few­er than four per­cent­age points—and his stature as a former In­di­ana House speak­er. Hill ran for an open U.S. Sen­ate seat in 1990 and lost to Coats by sev­en per­cent­age points, and was un­seated from his House seat by Young in 2010.

Gregg said he has no in­terest in run­ning for Sen­ate even if Coats re­tires and isn’t lack­ing for con­fid­ence when it comes to how he thinks he would fare in a gubernat­ori­al primary: “I would blow out any­body in a primary but two people—[Sen.] Joe Don­nelly and the pat­ron saint of In­di­ana Demo­crats Evan Bayh.”

“Former Con­gress­man Hill is a friend, but I will make my de­cision to run re­gard­less of wheth­er he is or not,” Gregg said. “He doesn’t both­er me at all, he doesn’t have any fol­low­ing. Great guy, but you know, he needs to fo­cus on the U.S. Sen­ate race.”

Gregg said he has no idea if oth­er In­di­ana Demo­crats might pres­sure Hill to change his fo­cus. In­di­ana Demo­crat­ic Party chair John Zody, Hill’s former chief of staff, de­clined to talk about the race when con­tac­ted.

Demo­crats also are keep­ing an eye on how the length of Pence’s flir­ta­tion with a pres­id­en­tial bid im­pacts voters’ per­cep­tions of him at home. Gregg thinks the time is ripe to cap­it­al­ize off Pence’s reg­u­lar trips out of state.

“By him go­ing out and be­ing away from In­di­ana all the time, there’s been some slip-ups in gov­ern­ment,” Gregg said, point­ing to Pence’s at­tempt at launch­ing a state-run news site and minor scan­dals in two state agen­cies. “There have been some things show­ing, you know, they’re not pay­ing at­ten­tion to de­tails and part of my mes­sage, as it was be­fore, is that In­di­ana needs a full-time gov­ernor who’s go­ing to bring people to­geth­er.”

DGA spokes­man Jared Leo­pold agrees. “I do think that what we’re see­ing in a lot of oth­er states could spread to In­di­ana, where you’re see­ing guys like [Louisi­ana Gov. Bobby] Jin­dal or [New Jer­sey Gov. Chris] Christie or [Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott] Walk­er are start­ing to get dinged back home for how much they want to play foot­sie with the D.C. me­dia and with primary state voters,” Leo­pold said.

Cor­rec­tion: Coats first an­nounced his re­tire­ment in 1996. A pre­vi­ous ver­sion of this story con­tained in­cor­rect in­form­a­tion.

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