Republican Mike Pence picked freshman state Rep. Sue Ellspermann, a former business consultant and economic development official, as his running mate Monday in an Indiana governor's race that Republicans and Democrats expect will be dominated by jobs and the economy.
Pence announced Ellspermann's selection in her hometown of Ferdinand in southwestern Indiana's Dubois County as they started a two-day tour across the state together.
Ellspermann's nomination would make her the only woman among the five Republicans expected to be on the November ballot for statewide office and adds economic development and limited state government experience to Pence's 12-year tenure in Congress. She has been director of the University of Southern Indiana's Center for Applied Research, which aims to find ways for the Evansville school to help businesses in the region, and she previously had her own business consulting firm.
"We're leaning on her for guidance and counsel about how we can promote policies and practices that will encourage investment in Indiana," Pence said shortly after his announcement Monday morning.
Ellspermann would be a natural pick to head the "jobs cabinet" Pence has talked about, which would consist of investment gurus working throughout the state to bolster Hoosier start-up businesses. However Pence did not say Monday whether she would fill such a role.
Ellspermann scored a political coup for Republicans in the 2010 election by defeating then-Democratic House Majority Leader Russell Stilwell as 12 Republicans won Democratic-held seats to regain control of the Indiana House with a 60-40 majority.
She has been a reliable supporter of much of the GOP agenda in the Legislature over the past two years, voting in favor of starting the state's private school voucher program, the right-to-work law banning contracts that require workers to pay union fees and a bill banning most state funding for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.
The campaign of Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg, who hasn't yet named his lieutenant governor pick, criticized Pence and Ellspermann for sharing a focus "on a divisive social agenda."
Gregg's campaign targeted Ellspermann's support for the bill to slash Planned Parenthood funding and Pence's unsuccessful efforts to push similar cuts through Congress last year during a spending debate that threatened a possible federal government shutdown.
"Instead of fighting for jobs and opportunity for Indiana, they have both spent their political careers fighting for an extreme social agenda which would have denied thousands of Hoosiers access to critical health care services," the Gregg campaign said in a statement. "Indiana needs an administration with a jobs agenda, not a social agenda."
Ellspermann's nomination for lieutenant governor will have to be confirmed at the state Republican convention on June 9 in Indianapolis. The state Democratic convention is a week later in Fort Wayne.
Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels can't seek re-election this year because of term limits.
"There are offensive benefits and defensive benefits" to Ellspermann's pick, said former state Rep. Mike Murphy, an Indianapolis Republican.
On the one hand, she offers Pence a highly-educated leader with deep economic development experience, while on the other she has roots in Gregg's home territory of southwest Indiana and could nullify some of his support there, Murphy said. He also reads Gregg's initial salvo as more pointed at shoring up his base of supporters than trying to peel away potential Pence supporters.