Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb and U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita and Susan Brooks wasted no time filing paperwork Friday morning confirming they would withdraw from their current races to seek the Republican Party's nod for governor now that Mike Pence is officially Donald Trump’s vice presidential pick.
"I look forward to continuing success here in Indiana and being able to share my contribution and participation and getting the state back on track, on course and moving full steam ahead," Holcomb told reporters at the Indiana Secretary of State's office. He said he's "really excited to hit the trail."
House Speaker Brian Bosma, meanwhile, announced he would not run.
The Indiana Republican Party’s central committee will choose the new candidate to run against Democrat John Gregg.
The committee now has 30 days to pick a new candidate. But it likely would make the decision sooner to give the candidate as much time to campaign as possible. Interested candidates who were already on the ballot in another race had until noon Friday to withdraw from their current ballot positions to seek the nomination. Any who are not currently running for office have until 72 hours before the caucus selection to file with the state and inform the party of their interest.
Pence filed his withdrawal paperwork on Friday, although it had been dated and signed Thursday. Holcomb, Rokita and Brooks filed their paperwork shortly thereafter.
Rokita said his statewide name ID from two wins as secretary of state and the $1.5 million he already has in his campaign account make him a good pick for Republicans. And Rokita said that last week—even before it was clear Trump would pick Pence—he hired a campaign manager and staff to lobby the party's central committee.
“You’re going to see the Rokita administration focused first on jobs and the economy—raising the Hoosier standard of living so have more money in our pockets," Rokita told reporters after filing his paperwork. "I don’t hide from the fact that I also am very conservative on social issues but that’s not why I’m running for governor and that’s not why I ran to be fourth district congressman.”
Two people who were expected to seek the GOP nod for governor decided against getting into the race.
"I will not seek our party’s nomination through the process available to our state party leaders at this late date,” Bosma said in a statement.
And Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke said Friday that he has no plans to enter the caucus.
"I am proud of the shining example that the city of Evansville has become for our great state and look forward to working closely with the next governor of Indiana," Winnecke said in a statement.
Brooks' and Rokita's entries into the governor's race could open up ballot spots for in their 4th and 5th congressional districts. But if those who are interested in running for those seats are seeking election in another race, they must also withdraw from the ballot by noon Friday.
Holcomb is former state party chairman who has worked closely with party leaders for years. “Eric is at a significant advantage over anyone because he worked on the state committee with most of us,” said Jamey Noel, who serves on the 22-member group told IBJ on Thursday. “We are familiar with him, we know him inside and out, and we can trust Eric.”
Brooks, who represents the state’s 5th District in the House and is a former U.S. attorney, would be the first female governor in Indiana. She's also from Hamilton County and could help Republicans recapture votes from an area of central Indiana that helped secure the gubernatorial race for Pence back in 2012 but has seemed to cool to him since. Suburban women are seen to be a key voting bloc in the November election.
“My own opinion is that Susan Brooks is the toughest for them to beat,” former Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle told IBJ on Thursday.
Former State Republican Chairman Murray Clark said he respects and admires all the candidates but that he thinks Brooks is the “best bet."
“She has achieved greatly, for starters,” Clark said. “She has an impressive resume. She’s a very substantive person. She’s extremely popular in areas of the state where we as a party need to do very well, like a good part of her district.”
Rokita represents the state’s 4th District in the House and served two terms as secretary of state. He’s taken some hard-line stances on divisive social issues during his time in Congress—he’s ardently anti-abortion, for instance—but he also recently worked with Democrats on a federal education policy overhaul. Most recently, Rokita has made waves by proposing to make it harder for schools with higher numbers of poor children to qualify for federal free lunch programs. He also proposed to limit fresh fruit and vegetables and caught flak when it was discovered that he has received thousands in campaign cash from the food processing industries.
But the former two-term secretary of state is good at winning elections. “He’s won a couple of difficult statewide races against good opponents," Ed Feigenbaum, a longtime Statehouse observer who is founder of INGroup, said Thursday. "And the guy can raise money like you won’t believe.”
Rokita said he's looking forward to "a fair and open process" by the GOP central committee that will select a candidate.
"It has to be a process of integrity," he said. "Now this is a deal that is gonna happen in a room and that’s not necessarily my style. I usually take my case to the voters directly and they have responded by electing me in primaries and general elections by large margins. But I know a lot of those people in that room, and I know they’ll do an open process with integrity.”