Pence’s $7M war chest takes center stage before GOP nominee vote

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Money—particularly Gov. Mike Pence’s $7 million war chest—has become a central focus before a vote Tuesday morning by state Republicans to choose Pence’s replacement in the governor’s race.

Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb, who has claimed that Pence’s endorsement of him brings with it assured money and campaign infrastructure, appears to be the favorite ahead of the vote.

“We’re confident we have the votes to win,” said Republican strategist Pete Seat, a Holcomb spokesman who also helped run Holcomb’s U.S. Senate primary campaign earlier this year.

Holcomb is up against U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks and U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, who both withdrew from their respective congressional races to run for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. The 22-member Indiana Republican Party Central Committee will decide Tuesday who gets to face Democratic challenger John Gregg. State Sen. Jim Tomes from Evansville has also thrown his hat into the ring.

The Associated Press reported over the weekend that at least one major GOP donor, Al Hubbard, was “annoyed” that Holcomb appeared to suggest in an email to committee members that other candidates would not have Pence’s financial backing.

Then Brooks received a high-profile endorsement from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who said the Republican Governors Association would fully back the committee’s choice. And Rokita sent an email stressing that fact—and touting his own fundraising abilities.

On Monday, Holcomb clarified that the email he sent to GOP officials was not intended to suggest that other Republicans seeking the nomination would not get help from Pence should GOP leaders go against the governor's wishes.

He said Pence promised him financial support and campaign resources if the committee selects him. But he added that Pence didn't rule out lending assistance to another candidate if one is selected.

Holcomb's email to the committee was obtained by AP. He told the members that "no other candidate" could boast support from the governor's campaign committee.

Pence has a few options for using the money in his war chest, state and federal election experts said.

State election division lawyer Dale Simmons said Pence could "certainly give his money to any other committee in Indiana.”

But Federal Election Commission spokesman Christian Hilland said Pence could not give his funds to a federal candidate’s committee.

“At its option, however, a non-federal committee of the same candidate may refund its leftover funds to its contributors and may coordinate arrangements with the federal campaign for a solicitation of those same persons,” Hilland said in a statement to IBJ. “The full cost of this solicitation must be paid by the federal committee."

Indiana University professor Leslie Lenkowsky said Pence also could decide to keep some of the money—as Sen. Evan Bayh did when he resigned from Congress in 2010—in case he wants to run for governor again.

Longtime Statehouse analyst Ed Feigenbaum said he thinks the money narrative is “way overrated” and doesn’t matter very much.

“There is no way the governor would not turn over virtually all of his campaign treasury to the [winning] candidate,” Feigenbaum said. “The governor and U.S. Rep. Rokita aren’t necessarily the best of friends, but you don’t have to be good friends in order to support someone politically."

Two committee members—Jamey Noel and Nick Barbkneckt—told IBJ on Monday that they were voting for Holcomb. In addition, AP reported that Kyle Hupfer also said he would vote for Holcomb. Committee member Tom John of Indianapolis said he would back Brooks. State Republican committee treasurer Dan Dumezich of Lake County said he was supporting Rokita.

“I expect this to be a one-ballot race,” Noel said. The votes are to be cast on a secret ballot, but the victor must have at least 12 votes. If no one gets a majority on the first ballot, it could go to a second ballot.

Brooks, Rokita and Holcomb—and their various surrogates—have been jockeying for the position over the last week.

“We got emails from hundreds of supporters,” Barbkneckt said.

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