Republican gubernatorial candidates trade jabs at first debate

The six Republican gubernatorial candidates at a March 11, 2024 debate in Carmel. Photo provided.
By Whitney Downard
Indiana Capital Chronicle

INDIANAPOLIS — The first gubernatorial debate of the cycle gave the six Republican contenders in a highly competitive primary the opportunity to attack one another at a Monday event moderated and livestreamed by the Carmel-based news publication Current.


Candidates U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, Brad Chambers, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, Eric Doden, former Attorney General Curtis Hill and Jamie Reitenour took turns elevating themselves above their peers with interspersed jabs at opponents.

Last week, an independent poll from The Hill and Emerson College found that one-third of Hoosiers said they’d support Braun in the 2024 race for governor while three other candidates — Chambers, Crouch and Doden — scored in the single digits but above the 5% threshold to participate in a FOX59/CBS4 debate later this month.

In the poll, Hill and Reitenour didn’t meet that cutoff.

Notably, 43% of Republicans participating in the poll were undecided, leaving the door open for any candidate to woo voters.

Ballot referendums and economic development

The debate opened with a question on ballot referendums, which must receive the approval of the General Assembly before reaching voters in Indiana. Some states allows voters to initiate ballot questions and bypass legislators. It has been used in Ohio to legalize cannabis or enshrine abortion access.

Hill, who opened his remarks with culture war issues, declined to support such maneuvers, pointing to Ohio as an example.

“I think ballot initiatives may work in other states, I don’t think it works for Indiana … we want to make sure that our issues are flushed out, debated,” Hill said.

On marijuana legalization in Ohio, Hill said, “I don’t think it would have made it if it had gone through the regular assembly process. It’s imperative that we debate and have public discourse about various issues in an open environment with accountability.”

Crouch, Braun, Chambers and Doden all said they’d support a ballot initiative if it survived the chamber and was properly vetted to varying degrees. But Reitenour, appealing to an ultraconservative Christian base, suggested ballot referendums could be necessary when there is “government overreach,” though she worried about and opposed abortion measures as well.

“This is the time for the church to rise. We also have to be those that are willing to have our voices heard and so, in a government where there is overreach, I do believe that people should have the voice,” Reitenour said.


On a question of state versus local control, Reitenour additionally called for an overhaul of the state property tax system, especially the use of school referenda and finding a way to freeze property taxes for owners until they sell. Such moves would certainly be opposed by local government that relies on property taxes.

Crouch, who splits her time between Indianapolis and Evansville, said she understood the fight over local control versus state interests, pointing to the bevy of endorsements she’s picked up from locally elected officials.

“I’ve walked in their shoes,” said Crouch, a former Vanderburgh County commissioner. “I will ensure that we have a more collaborative partnership between local and state government and that we move away from the top down.”

Others used the question of local control to attack Chambers, who recently stepped down as the Secretary of Commerce and leader of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. Under his tenure, the state launched the ambitious LEAP project in Boone County and bought farmland while navigating water shortages.

Doden called it a “top-down approach” to start a project without prioritizing water and other resources first.

“I think it’s the opposite of what we need for the state of Indiana. And we realize that what grows our economy is grassroots small business growth,” Doden said.

Chambers again defended the project, saying Indiana needed to be globally competitive.

“To grow wages, to lift people up economically, to put more money in people’s pockets … we need to do things that will keep our kids and our grandkids here,” Chambers said. “There’s a trillion dollars of new investment circling the world and Indiana can compete for that. But it’s got to be ready.”

Attacks on Braun, COVID-19

In particular, candidates honed in on the fallout of COVID-19, re-litigating battles over mask mandates and vaccines. Crouch said the federal government and Anthony Fauci, who led the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases during COVID-19, “lied.”

But Reitenour said the problems also occurred closer to home, saying she’d wished Crouch had been on the steps of the Statehouse railing against vaccines.


“The conservative party in this state went too far,” Reitenour said. “We have a problem with government overreach, COVID was not handled right. We should have had true transparency and engagement.”

On his record in Washington D.C., Braun called himself one of the “most fiscally conservative” senators, saying he’d voted against every continuing resolution with the exception of the COVID-19 CARES Act. He urged caution when it came to Indiana’s own fiscal health.

“And when you look at why that can happen in your own state, when you all of a sudden have a budget that is way above economic growth per state. Let’s be careful here that we don’t get ahead of our skis,” Braun said.

Hill openly wondered why, if Braun had so much of a record to highlight, he’d want to leave to run for governor.

“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 shot back, “If you like me as your senator you’ll like me better as governor.”

Chambers “piled on” and wondered why Braun, who denigrated career politicians, didn’t consider himself one even as he pursued his third political office.

“I spent 37 years building a little scrappy business into a regional and international company. And that is what I ran for Senate on. It resonated overwhelmingly,” Braun said.

Four of the candidates — Braun, Chambers, Crouch and Doden — will appear together on the debate stage later this month for a March 26 debate with FOX59/CBS4. On March 27, WISH will host its own debate followed by an Indiana Debate Commission event on April 23, just a few weeks before the May 7 primary election.

To win in the May primary, a contender only needs to gain the majority vote over the other Republicans — not a plurality, or over 50% — to win.


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The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to giving Hoosiers a comprehensive look inside state government, policy and elections. The site combines daily coverage with in-depth scrutiny, political awareness and insightful commentary.

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