INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The campaign to replace Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as the Republican candidate for governor remained intense Monday a day ahead of the unprecedented selection set in motion by his withdrawal to become Donald Trump’s vice presidential running mate.
At least three members of the 22-person Republican state committee are publicly backing Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb, whom Pence endorsed Friday for the nomination that the committee will decide during a private meeting Tuesday. Several other top Republican officials and donors are also endorsing Holcomb over other prominent hopefuls U.S. Reps. Susan Brooks and Todd Rokita.
Committee member Jamey Noel, who is the Clark County sheriff, said he believes it is natural for Holcomb as lieutenant governor to replace Pence as the GOP nominee against Democrat John Gregg in the November election.
Noel said Holcomb’s knowledge of the Pence administration and his campaign operation would be an important boost following the first such summer time gubernatorial candidate switch in modern Indiana history
“He’s in the best position here in very short notice, roughly 100 days, to be able to pick it up and be elected as our next governor,” Noel said.
Committee members Kyle Hupfer of Madison County and Nick Barbknecht of LaPorte County have also told The Associated Press they will support Holcomb in Tuesday’s vote.
Holcomb, a former state Republican chairman who has never been elected to office, has touted his eight years as a top aide and campaign manager to former Gov. Mitch Daniels and four months as lieutenant governor. Pence picked Holcomb after his 2012 running mate, Sue Ellspermann, resigned in March.
Brooks and Rokita have less public support but are continuing to press their cases following a week of jockeying for the nomination with state committee members during last week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Brooks’ campaign highlighted an endorsement from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was a U.S. attorney at the same time Brooks held the top federal prosecutor position in Indianapolis under President George W. Bush.
Christie’s letter to Indiana GOP committee members said the Republican Governors Association, of which Christie is a past chairman, would give financial support to whoever the committee picks. That message follows a weekend letter from Holcomb to state committee members suggesting that another candidate might not get help from Pence’s $7 million campaign fund should GOP leaders go against the governor’s wishes.
Republican Governors Association has donated more than $2 million in ads and cash to Pence’s campaign.
“Susan has a demonstrated record of winning tough elections,” Christie said. “I also believe that having an accomplished woman at the top of your statewide ticket in Indiana will draw even more support and attention to this race from across the country.”
State committee member Tom John of Indianapolis said he’s backing Brooks because he’s concluded she is the most electable candidate against Gregg, a former Indiana House speaker who narrowly lost to Pence four years ago.
“I will walk into the room with an open mind, even though I have that leaning for Susan right now and I would hope the rest of the committee members would do the same,” he said.
Rokita’s campaign is highlighting his two wins in statewide elections as secretary of state before being elected to Congress in 2010 as evidence he would be the best candidate.
State Republican committee treasurer Dan Dumezich of Lake County said he was supporting Rokita and hadn’t considered whether selecting a candidate other than Holcomb would embarrass Pence on the national stage.
“I think everyone knows and respects Governor Pence, but people realize this is a weighty decision and they are going to balance everything, all factors,” Dumezich said.