Sep 7, 2023 - Politics

Democrats see path to a competitive governor's race

A woman stands at a podium in front of a blue curtain

Photo: Arika Herron/Axios

Jennifer McCormick — the former Republican state superintendent of public instruction turned front-runner for the 2024 Democratic gubernatorial nomination — has a steep hill to climb.

  • She is behind in funding, name recognition and support in conservative state that hasn't elected a Democrat to the office in more than two decades.

Yes, but: Her campaign says new polling shows the race is competitive.

Driving the news: Polling recently conducted on behalf of McCormick's campaign and provided to Axios showed her in tight races with two Republicans and only trailing a third in head-to-head matches.

  • But the poll results also offer an opening for her to focus messaging on abortion rights — potentially winning over undecided voters.

Why it matters: Most Indiana state agencies are led by gubernatorial appointees, rather than elected officials, so flipping the office could lead to significant shifts in state policy.

Details: On behalf of the campaign, Public Policy Polling surveyed 663 Indiana registered voters from Aug. 15-16.

  • It found that the majority of those surveyed said the state is "on the wrong track."
  • The poll only asked about McCormick versus three GOP front-runners: U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and former attorney general Curtis Hill.
  • It excluded other GOP candidates: Brad Chambers (who hadn't announced he was running when the poll was conducted), Eric Doden and Jamie Reitenour.
  • The poll also didn't account for third-party candidates, like Libertarian Donald Rainwater, who received 11% of the vote when he ran in 2020.

By the numbers: In a match-up against Braun, McCormick trailed 35% to his 46% with 19% undecided.

  • Against Crouch, McCormick netted 35% to Crouch's 39% with 28% undecided.
  • McCormick and Hill tied at 36% in a head-to-head with 28% undecided.
  • Of note: The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.81 percentage points.

The other side: "The Indiana Republican Party is confident that we will have a strong candidate for the 2024 gubernatorial race," state Republican party Chairwoman Anne Hathaway told Axios in a statement.

  • She added the party would work to "remind Hoosiers that the Republican Party has delivered on all issues."

Between the lines: McCormick's biggest challenge may be getting her name in front of voters ahead of the election.

  • The survey found she's still unknown, even to a majority of Democrats.
  • Well-funded candidates can buy name recognition, but McCormick trails her GOP rivals substantially in fundraising.
  • McCormick is the presumptive Democratic nominee, but perennial candidate Bob Kern has also filed.

The intrigue: Consistent with other polling in the state, the survey found a majority of voters believe abortion should be legal at least in some cases — and that those views could shape the election.

  • When voters were asked whether they'd support a generic Democratic candidate who would reverse Senate Bill 1 — Indiana's near-total abortion ban — or a generic Republican candidate who supported it and would enforce it, they were almost evenly split with 20% undecided.

Quick take: Even if she were to win, McCormick wouldn't be able to reverse SB1 without the General Assembly and that support doesn't currently exist in the Republican-controlled Statehouse.

Reality check: All major election rating groups rate the governor's seat as firmly staying red.

Plus: Polls are a snapshot of how a small group of individuals feel at one point in time and should be taken with a big grain of salt.

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