Mar 28, 2024 - News

What we've learned from Indiana's GOP gubernatorial debates so far

Illustration of a microphone surrounded by election form icons.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

The Republicans vying to be Indiana's next governor sparred this week in two of three televised debates planned for the primary election cycle.

The big picture: With six candidates — including five who have held statewide office or a position in the governor's Cabinet and four with serious fundraising war chests — this GOP primary is one of the most competitive (and expensive) in state history.

The candidates are:

  • U.S. Sen. Mike Braun
  • Brad Chambers, former commerce secretary and president of the Indiana Economic Development Corp.
  • Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch
  • Eric Doden, former president of the IEDC
  • Former Attorney General Curtis Hill
  • Jamie Reitenour, a conservative activist, who did not qualify for this week's debates

We watched this week's debates, so you didn't have to. Here's what you missed:

🥊 Fighting for the nomination

Candidates have fought over:

  • Who's lying
  • Who will actually get things done
  • Who has signed more paychecks (yes, really)
  • Who's the biggest outsider

Braun says he's the biggest outsider because he was endorsed by "ultimate outsider," former President Donald Trump.

The other side: Chambers said he's the real outsider because this is his first time running for office.

The other, other side: Doden said he doesn't know why they're fighting about being outsiders.

☝️ Crouch (still) stands alone on income tax elimination

Crouch has made eliminating the state income tax her signature campaign promise — so the other candidates have weaponized it as either impossible or imprudent.

Why it matters: Indiana brings in roughly $8 billion annually in state income taxes, more than one-third of state revenues.

What she's saying: "I'm the only one on this stage with the political courage to suggest we ax the tax," Crouch said, citing other states that have done so.

Yes, but: Those states tend to have higher rates of sales tax or property taxes.

The other side: Other candidates are coalescing around property taxes, suggesting the state work to lower those instead.

Reality check: Property taxes are already capped at a percentage of property values, so recent increases are due to rapidly rising home values.

⛔ Illegal immigration will continue to be an election issue

This is despite Indiana being more than 1,000 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border.

What happened: All the candidates said they would follow in Gov. Eric Holcomb's footsteps sending Indiana National Guard troops to Texas' southern border.

  • The trafficking of the drug fentanyl and the deportation of illegal immigrants was brought up several times.

Reality check: Republicans often conflate the flow of illicit fentanyl from Mexico across the U.S. border with the country's migration crisis, which experts say is inaccurate, writes Axios' Caitlin Owens.

  • Although the majority of the U.S. fentanyl supply comes from Mexico, the vast majority enters the country through legal ports of entry.

🫥 Not everyone was invited

Debate hosts set their own rules, in coordination with the campaigns, including criteria for inclusion.

  • Hill did not make the cut for Tuesday's debate on Fox59/CBS4.
  • Reitenour did not qualify for the Fox59/CBS4 debate or Wednesday's WISH-TV debate.

What she's saying: "Phone calls and emails have been made by our team and Hoosiers to the TV stations," Reitenour said. "Despite these appeals and widespread public outcry, we have not been able to rectify the injustice."

👋 State DEI office is not long for this world

Holcomb appointed Indiana's first chief equity, inclusion and opportunity officer in 2021, following 2020's summer of unrest.

Why it matters: All five candidates on stage Wednesday said they'd eliminate the position.

What they said: "I'm glad all my opponents jumped on the bandwagon," said Hill, who previously pledged to eliminate the position on his first day in office.

What's next: One more debate on April 23 — and all six candidates will be included.

  • Primary election day is May 7.

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