Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Braun (above) filed with the Secretary of State’s office Wednesday morning to form a campaign finance committee, launching his candidacy for governor in 2024.
“Mike Braun has filed his paperwork to run for governor and will be making an official announcement of his candidacy very soon,” Josh Kelley, Braun’s chief of staff and senior political advisor, said in a statement from a private email.
The first-term senator had long hinted at the possibility of succeeding Gov. Eric Holcomb, who isn’t allowed to seek a third consecutive term.
Andrew Downs, a former political science professor at Purdue University Fort Wayne, said the purpose of Braun’s relatively early announcement served to clear the field of other candidates considering a run for the state’s highest elected office.
“There will be some folks who reconsider because he’s there. That’s not necessarily because they’re afraid of him but they understand that he has relationships with donors and leaders that will automatically go to him,” Downs said.
Top Republican donors aligned with Braun will limit the number of campaign dollars available to other candidates, who may seek another elected office – including Braun’s own seat in the U.S. Senate.
The Trump factor on 2024
Braun has closely aligned himself with former President Donald Trump, winning his Senate seat in 2018 two years after Trump won a tight election. During his tenure in the Senate, Braun consistently upheld the then-president’s agenda but Downs warned voters might not be as enamored with Trump in 2024.
“If the interest of the public begins to wane on Trump – well, (Braun)’s already defined himself,” Downs said. “And so maybe somebody can win the nomination who is not as much of a fan of the former president.”
In August, McConnell warned that Republicans might not hold onto Senate control due to “candidate quality,” not naming anyone individually. Just one of Trump’s slate of senate candidates won.
But Trump announced shortly after the midterms that he would be pursuing another term as president, potentially boosting Republican turnout for those further down the ballot, including the party’s candidate for governor.
Downs said that Braun could still carve out a loyal base and win the nomination with a plurality of the primary vote, much like Trump did in 2016 and Braun did in 2018.
“(Trump) was able to outlast people… his plurality was enough to give him wins,” Downs said. “If we go back to that 2018 race, there was a fracturing of the vote on the Republican side… and (that) could be used as a way to explain why Braun was able to get the nomination.”
Reverberations of announcement on Senate, other candidates
Braun’s decision to not seek re-election to the Senate makes that race more competitive, with two U.S. Representatives already exploring a campaign. Ukrainian-born Victoria Spartz, in the central 5th Congressional District, told Politico in September she plans to run for the seat and Indy Politics’ reported that Jim Banks, of the northeastern 3rd Congressional District, was preparing to run earlier this month.
“(Braun) running for governor, that opens up the field for the Senate race,” Downs said.
Though he hasn’t announced, Holcomb’s massive war chest amassed as governor could lend itself to another elected office — potentially as senator. However, Holcomb hasn’t indicated any post-governorship plans.
Because of Braun’s conservative and Trumpian designation, a more moderate candidate would likely be a challenge. The only other announced candidate for the position is Eric Doden, a Fort Wayne businessman, who has outlined several conservative priorities when he launched an ad campaign earlier this month.
Other candidates rumored to be considering a run include Republican Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and former Superintendent for Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick. Neither responded to questions Wednesday.
Though McCormick previously ran, and won, as a Republican, she has appeared numerous times with Democrats on statewide campaigns and aligns herself with the Democratic Party.
Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita and outgoing Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, of the 9th Congressional District, are also floated as possibilities for governor.
Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Mike Schmuhl said “A Mike Braun administration would do nothing to improve the state’s dismal quality-of-life, workforce, and education rankings, and coming up on 20 years of Republican state administrations, Hoosiers deserve honest leadership that will put an end to extremist politics and chart a course for a modern and better Indiana where everyone has the freedom to thrive.”
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