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Holcomb starting transition to Indiana governor's office

November 9, 2016

Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb started the transition to Indiana's governorship a day after extending his party's 12-year hold on the state's top office as part of a GOP sweep of statewide positions and large majorities in the General Assembly.

Holcomb's win in Tuesday's election completed his quick Statehouse accession. He had never been elected to office before and only became Gov. Mike Pence's lieutenant governor eight months ago. He raced to introduce himself to voters after replacing Pence as the Republican candidate in July when Pence became Donald Trump's vice presidential running mate.

Holcomb defeated Democratic candidate John Gregg and told a raucous victory celebration Tuesday night that Republicans across the state helped him overcome doubters who questioned whether he could put together a campaign and raise enough money in little more than 100 days.

"Holcomb can't do this and Holcomb can't do that," he told the crowd. "Well, they were partly right. Holcomb couldn't do it, but we did!"

Holcomb met Wednesday with his transition team and was slated to hold an afternoon news conference, campaign spokesman Pete Seat said.

The only Democrat in a statewide office — incumbent state schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz — was ousted by Republican Jennifer McCormick, currently the superintendent of the Yorktown Community Schools near Muncie. Ritz frequently had clashed with Republican legislators and Pence over education policy over the past four years.

Holcomb's running mate, state Auditor Suzanne Crouch, was elected lieutenant governor, while Republican Curtis Hill, the prosecutor in northern Indiana's Elkhart County, was elected the new state attorney general.

Republicans won 70 Indiana House seats, keeping them over the two-thirds majority mark needed to take action even if no Democrats are present. Democrats had hoped to pick up at least the five seats needed to break the supermajority, but gained only a single seat.

Republicans also are keeping their state Senate supermajority as they will hold at least 40 of its 50 seats.

Gregg, making his second run for governor after a narrow 2012 loss to Pence, aimed to link Holcomb to controversies during Pence's term such as Indiana's 2015 religious freedom law that sparked a national uproar from gay-rights supporters.

To deflect Gregg's criticism on social issues, Holcomb stressed economic bright spots such as a $2.4 billion state budget surplus, an unemployment rate of only 4.5 percent, recent tax cuts and the state's AAA credit rating.

Lenny Paxton, a 56-year-old retired train engineer from LaPorte, said he voted for Holcomb because of Gregg's support for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Holcomb's priority of continuing Republican state budget policies.

Holcomb, 48, largely avoided mentioning Pence, instead highlighting his time as a top aide and campaign manager for Pence's two-term popular predecessor, former Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Holcomb praised both governors in his victory speech, saying he aimed to continue on the trajectory they started for the state.

"It is because of their collective, proven leadership that Indiana finds itself in the position that we occupy today," Holcomb said. "Mitch Daniels built a foundation. Mike Pence added a couple stories and Suzanne Crouch and I are gonna add story after story after story as we take Indiana to the next level."

Gregg, a former Indiana House speaker, cited Trump's big win in the state and Republican victories in the U.S. Senate race and other statewide races as making his race an uphill climb.

"It was tough with what happened in the state with the landslide that came across Indiana," Gregg said in his concession speech.

Holcomb has mostly been a behind-the-scenes political operative, including time as state Republican Party chairman. He spent 10 months running for this year's Republican U.S. Senate nomination, but had little fundraising success. He dropped out when Pence picked him to become lieutenant governor in March, after Pence's 2012 running mate, Sue Ellspermann, resigned to become president of Ivy Tech Community College.

Pence's decision to drop his re-election bid means Indiana will have a one-term governor for the first time since the state constitution was changed in the 1970s to allow governors to seek a second consecutive term.

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