Challenger defeats Holcomb appointee to secure GOP nomination for secretary of state

  • Comments
  • Print

Challenger Diego Morales’ campaign to defeat Gov. Eric Holcomb’s appointee for Indiana secretary of state succeeded on Saturday, when Indiana Republican Party delegates nominated Morales to be their  candidate in November’s general election.

The hotly contested four-candidate secretary of state race was a focal point of the party’s state convention, which some considered to be a referendum on Holcomb as he faced backlash from social conservatives over his pandemic response and veto of a bill to bar transgender girls from K-12 girl sports.

Morales, who played to that conservative base in campaign mailings that bashed the governor and appointee Holli Sullivan, won the race on the second ballot.

Morales earned 847 votes, besting Sullivan’s 561 and David Shelton’s 215. A fourth candidate, Paul Hager, was eliminated in an earlier round of voting after securing only 15 votes.

Many of the more than 1,600 delegates at the Indiana State Fairgrounds erupted in cheers after Morales was declared the winner, as his green-shirted supporters jumped to their feet and waved campaign signs.

Speaking to reporters after securing the nomination, Morales deflected a direct question about whether his win represented a repudiation of the governor.

“My job is right now to unite the party,” Morales said.

During the run-up to the convention, however, Morales sent delegates a campaign mailer that described Sullivan as “Holcomb’s puppet” and criticized the governor as “elitist,” “pro-abortion” and imposing an “authoritarian lockdown” during the pandemic.

State Republican Party Chairman Kyle Hupfer said he viewed Morales’ win not as a commentary on Holcomb but as a reflection of the effort Morales put into his campaign. Morales said he traveled to all of Indiana’s 92 counties during his campaign.

“They [delegates] know Diego. Diego’s been everywhere,” Hupfer told reporters.

Sullivan has served as secretary of state since March 2021 when Holcomb appointed her to finish the term of Connie Lawson, who resigned the post to focus on her health and family. Sullivan could not be reached for comment Saturday after election results were announced.

Because the secretary of state is the chief elections officer in most states, including Indiana, campaigns for the office often get caught up in Donald Trump’s unfounded claims that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” from him.

The Associated Press has reported that Morales has embraced those claims and called the 2020 presidential election a “scam.”

When a reporter asked him at Saturday’s convention whether he thought the 2020 election was run fairly, Morales did not directly answer the question.

“Joe Biden is in the White House,” Morales said. “Also, let me be clear—he’s doing a horrible job.”

In a speech to delegates before convention voting began, Morales outlined steps he would take as secretary of state to “secure our elections” with “common-sense policies.”

Those policies include, among other things, strengthening voter ID requirements and taking steps to prevent non-citizens from voting.

Morales said he would also establish a voting task force to investigate voting discrepancies and favors shortening the early-voting period from its current 28 days down to 14 days.

Morales, who immigrated to the U.S. with his family from Guatemala as a teen, said it’s “nonsense” to suggest that voter ID laws are racist. He held a copy of his U.S. naturalization certificate, saying it took him 10 years to become a citizen “so why not demand an ID when people vote?”

Morales, 43, served as an aide to then-Gov. Mike Pence from 2013-2017. In 2018, Morales ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination for a U.S. congressional seat.

The Associated Press has reported that Morales left two previous jobs in the secretary of state’s office, once in 2009 and again in 2011. On both occasions, Morales had been written up for poor job performance.

Hupfer said he’s not worried about Morales’ electability against Democrats in the general election, especially given the Republican party’s strength in Indiana. “I just don’t think this is going to be an issue. I really don’t.”

Morales will face former deputy attorney general Destiny Wells in the November election. Wells was unopposed in her bid for the Democratic nomination for secretary state, which was officially endorsed at the Indiana Democratic Party convention, also held on Saturday.

The conventions also set the fall matchups for state treasurer and state auditor.

In the Republican convention race for state treasurer, Daniel Elliott beat out challengers Lana Keesling, Elisa Nieshalla and Pete Seat. This fall, Elliott will face Democrat Jessica McClellan, now the Monroe County treasurer.

For auditor, Republican Tera Klutz will run against ZeNai Brooks, controller at Cummins Inc.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.

15 thoughts on “Challenger defeats Holcomb appointee to secure GOP nomination for secretary of state

  1. So 1,800 party activists met in a big room and decided who they want to nominate for Secretary of State. Is their judgment superior to the judgment of more than 1,720,000 GOP voters in Indiana who had no say in the selection? Party nominees for statewide office should be chosen by all the registered voters of that party.

  2. Of course. Select the guy who was gotten rid of twice in two State offices for lack of professionalism, lack of proficiency, not doing his job, etc. Makes perfect sense.

  3. Quote: Because the secretary of state is the chief elections officer in most states, including Indiana, campaigns for the office often get caught up in Donald Trump’s unfounded claims that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” from him.

    ‘Never miss a chance to get the word “unfounded” in such “reporting,” eh, Susan? You just couldn’t make that statement without the word “unfounded,” could you?

    ‘Seems like Morales had a good majority at 847 to 561+215; decisive. That’s good news. Holcomb needs to have his hands slapped after genuflecting to the uber-liberals over the nonsensical “transgender” women’s sports bill.

    1. Poor Bob, triggered by The Big Lie. Find that evidence of targeted voter fraud yet for me?

      Morales isn’t just unqualified to run the office by his beliefs, he also has -twice – demonstrated he’s unsuitable to collect a paycheck from Indiana taxpayers. But because he tells people what they want to hear, instead of reality, they fall all over themselves to support him. The Republican Party is a bigger scam than bitcoin.

      You wouldn’t think that Republicans could find someone worse than Todd Rokita, someone more craven, but then they go and totally prove me wrong.

  4. Brent B. – Why not get rid of primaries altogether? It’s not like the voters have a real say. Bernie Sanders would have won the nomination in a fair Democratic primary. So, what’s the point of primaries? In the majority of cases, what the primary allows is twice as much fundraising (the parties and candidates get donations once for the primary and then again for the general election). The Libertarians nominate candidates without a primary. So can the other two parties.

    1. What Patrick said. I’d be inclined to do it how Louisiana does it. First round for all candidates. If one of those candidates gets a majority, cancel the general election for that office. Otherwise, top two vote getters complete against each other.

  5. Indiana’s over ripe super majority party is rotting at its core . Nominating a person that was twice fired from the office of the department he is seeking to be elected to lead is another clue to expose the TRUMPIAN cult that has captured the former Republican Party.

  6. Welcome to Crazy Town – no one wins with this sort of a candidate and office holder. I’m embarrassed for all the folks who built a great GOP in Indiana and of course are now mislabeled as RINOs.

    1. I missed the coup she led on January 6, 2017 that disrupted the peaceful transfer of power. Post links.

    2. Joe, I missed all the stories of criminals from the 2020 Democrat riots being prosecuted . Post links

      Random deflections are fun!

    3. Not the same thing and you know that. Unless you’re saying that only Democrats stand up for the right for the police not to choke you out when they feel like it and Republicans are OK with the police having the right to use whatever force they want.

      Maybe go look up the case of Johnny Hurley and get back to me. Just about as bad for the cops as the school shooting in Texas and blows a large hole in the entire idea of more guns being useful to our safety.

      Back on topic, Chuck, why do folks like you and DonALD hate America so much? Why do you want to live in a fake democracy like Russia?

  7. When there are multiple candidates within a party for the same elected position, this should always go to a primary vote. This is what democracy is truly about–not about selecting a party candidate by political insiders. This is an issue for all political parties in Indiana and has probably bitten the Democrats more that the Republicans here in the past but as the Republican super majority is feeling more of their oats, could come back to bite the more as they move be moving away from the majority of Hoosiers.

    As one item, Indiana needs to allow binding referendums on ballots.