Indiana Lt. Gov. Crouch joins Sen. Braun in governor’s race

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch formally started her 2024 campaign for governor Monday and said she would not shy away from Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb’s record despite discontent among many conservatives over his COVID-19 policies and other actions.

Crouch, who was Holcomb’s running mate in 2016 and 2020, is joining U.S. Sen. Mike Braun in what could become an expensive fight for the Republican nomination in hopes of extending the GOP’s 20-year hold on the governor’s office. Holcomb cannot seek reelection because of term limits.

Crouch announced her campaign in an online video message released just hours ahead of Braun’s campaign kickoff event. Braun filed paperwork on Nov. 30 with state election officials allowing him to raise money for the governor’s race, a move that will forego him seeking another Senate term in 2024.

Braun, 68, was a little-known wealthy businessman before fueling his successful 2018 Senate campaign with more than $11 million in personal loans. He presented himself as a political outsider, defeating Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly.

Crouch, 70, said her campaign to become Indiana’s first female governor would highlight her decade as a local government official in Evansville before joining the Legislature in 2005. She then served three years as state auditor and became lieutenant governor in early 2017.

“I think if you put me on a stage with the other announced candidates, the differences are obvious,” Crouch told The Associated Press ahead of her announcement. “But when you look at the resumes, there is no candidate that has the local, state, legislative and executive experience that I have.”

Crouch has already raised more than $2.5 million for her campaign, and Fort Wayne businessman Eric Doden, who was a state economic development official for then-Gov. Mike Pence, has raised a similar amount since he started his campaign last year for the Republican nomination.

Braun repeated his frequent criticism of Congress being unable to act on many issues as he spoke during a luncheon with about 75 supporters at an upscale steakhouse in downtown Indianapolis. Braun said he wanted to “engage all of you to help me understand what the issues are” for the state, while briefly discussing his concerns about matters such as rising health care costs and the need to better prepare high school graduates for entering the workforce or college.

“You cannot solve the issues of the day with career politicians out east,” Braun said. “That was the main reason I decided to come back.”

Crouch has been a loyal Holcomb administration member and appeared at his side during several of his near-daily news conferences during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Holcomb easily won reelection that year, but frustration among conservatives over COVID-19 business restrictions and a statewide mask mandate boosted a Libertarian candidate to 11% of the vote. Holcomb further angered conservatives — and drew a public denouncement from Braun — with his veto in March of a GOP-backed bill banning transgender females from competing in Indiana girls sports teams.

Crouch said Indiana’s economy and state finances had continued to improve during Holcomb’s time as governor.

“We have accomplished a great deal and I’m proud of that record, not just over the past six years, but over the past 17 years being a part of turning this state around,” Crouch said.

State Democratic Chairman Mike Schmuhl said Crouch shared blame for Indiana’s poor national rankings in areas such as schools, pollution levels and maternal mortality.

“Hoosiers cannot afford another four more years of the status quo, because the status quo is currently putting families further and further behind the rest of the nation,” Schmuhl said in a statement.

State campaign filings show no other Republicans are actively raising money for the 2024 governor’s race, but that doesn’t mean the GOP field is set.

Republican U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth alluded to a possible run for a different office when he decided to not seek reelection this year. And some Republicans are hoping that former Gov. Mitch Daniels will seek a Statehouse return after he steps down as Purdue University’s president at the end of December.

U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, who unsuccessfully sought a top House Republican position last month, and U.S. Rep. Victoria Spartz have both said they are considering seeking the GOP nomination for Braun’s Senate seat.

Discussions of possible 2024 statewide Democratic candidates have centered on Donnelly, who is President Joe Biden’s ambassador to the Vatican, and former state schools superintendent Jennifer McCormick, who won election as a Republican in 2016 but has since switched parties after disputes with GOP Statehouse leaders over education policies.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.