Indiana Republican secretary of state candidate Diego Morales has fielded controversy since his first unsuccessful bid for public office in 2018, but could a pair of sexual misconduct allegations less than a month before Election Day endanger his latest campaign?
Two longtime former Republicans divulged decade-old allegations of sexual assault in interview transcripts published this week by political columnist Abdul-Hakim Shabazz.
One woman, who the Indiana Capital Chronicle also interviewed, said she was 22 in 2009, starting her first job out of college under then Secretary of State Todd Rokita, a Republican. She described being a week into the position when Morales asked her to grab drinks and invited her to partake in “campaign sex.” After he forcibly kissed her, she said, he stonewalled her at work for weeks.
She didn’t report it to her supervisors or human resources.
“Going into that job, I was terrified I was going to get fired,” she told the Capital Chronicle. “(Todd Rokita) didn’t know me; I hadn’t established any sort of credibility with him. And I was a couple of weeks into a new job. … I didn’t want to come in and immediately start accusing people of things, especially when that person was saying things like, ‘You led me on’ and, ‘You need to lighten up.’”
The second woman told Shabazz that she and Morales became friends while working on a Republican congressional campaign, and reconnected when she was 20 and Morales moved back to Indianapolis. She found herself in his new apartment to pick up a gift from the congressman when he repeatedly tried to kiss her, she said. After Morales drove her back home, she never again spoke with him.
“I called my parents right away. And actually, my father asked me if I wanted to file a police report,” she told Shabazz. “… I thought it could only be bad for us and our party, and that he would get away with it no matter what.”
When Morales announced a bid for secretary of state, her concerns returned.
“I really believed that if I went to party leaders who have known me for decades—these are people I spent a lot of time with. They’re my friends. They’re my colleagues—I believed if I went to them and I told them what happened, that at least we could deal with it [in] private,” the second woman said. “… And I gave them plenty of chances to do that. And it never went anywhere.”
The women went public with their allegations in a story published Friday.
Morales issued a strong rebuke: “The claims being made against me are false and I unequivocally deny all of them,” he said in a statement. “The women, who will not reveal their identity, cannot corroborate their stories … The falsities stem from 15 years ago and were not brought forward until now. Being 39 days out from the election, the timing is clearly politically motivated, especially because the women mention being volunteers and supporters of my opponent.”
Andrew Downs, director emeritus of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics and longtime political analyst, said “there is a chance [the allegations] could affect his race.”
Downs pointed to the case of former Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill, also a Republican, who in 2018 was accused of sexual misconduct by four women. A special prosecutor found the allegations credible, but didn’t find sufficient evidence to convict Hill of a crime.
The Indiana Supreme Court in 2020 found that Hill committed a misdemeanor battery and suspended his bar license for 30 days. Hill lost the Republican nomination for attorney general to Rokita in 2020, and has since lost an additional nomination bid for Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District.
“All we have to do is look at Curtis Hill for an example of somebody who saw the significant negative effects of this sort of information,” Downs said. “I would say these are very different situations, but the fact that there have been allegations made sends us down the road of the possibility of them being true. And for some folks, they’re looking for candidates who we don’t have to wait to find out if these are true or not. They would rather just have candidates who don’t even have the accusations against them.”
Hill was also decades into a career in public service. He was elected Elkhart County Prosecutor in 2002 and reelected three times before being elected Indiana attorney general in 2016. He left that office in January 2021.
In Morales’ case, however, “We’re not talking about an incumbent here,” Downs said. “We’re not talking about somebody who has a longstanding reputation, who people may immediately give the benefit of the doubt to. Instead, we’re talking about somebody who’s already had to talk about his work history, as well as potentially his military service.”
Morales has been dogged by criticism of his work history for the Secretary of State’s Office.
He left jobs in the office twice after being written up for poor job performance, once under then-Secretary Rokita and again under former Secretary Charlie White. The Associated Press first reported the disciplinary actions during Morales’ unsuccessful 2018 congressional bid.
And in a race against others with uncomplicated military histories—Democrat Destiny Scott Wells is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard and Libertarian Jeff Maurer currently serves in the Indiana Air National Guard in Terre Haute—Morales’ campaign was slow to clear up confusion over his own months of military training.
“We’re talking about somebody who has changed, some would argue, his position on a number of issues after having earned the nomination,” Downs continued. “And so another issue has been raised, another thing to make people question him as an individual—his personal character, even.”
The Indiana Democratic Party and other opponents have targeted Morales for walking back a proposal to cut early voting and downplaying doubts over the validity of the 2020 elections.
“If you look at the polling data that’s currently available, it certainly suggests there could be a loss here,” Downs said.
Wells narrowly led Morales, 36% to 32%, in a poll released Tuesday, conducted by ARW Strategies on Shabazz’s behalf. The poll largely uses online polling, in which reliability is not as strong as traditional methods.
The poll of 600 likely voters, 25% of whom were undecided, was conducted in late September, just before the allegations against Morales became public. The margin of error of 4% is enough to wipe out Wells’ lead, or give her a large boost.
Just 65% of Republicans were behind Morales, according to the poll, but only 2% had thrown their support behind Wells. About 7% supported Libertarian candidate Jeff Maurer, while a full 27% were undecided.
And Wells will need to capitalize on her opportunity.
“Does she have the money to actually advertise and remind people there is an alternative candidate, if not to drive home the point about the accusations?” Downs said. “So, you know, you have to be able to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves, and we can’t really know if she’s going to be able to do that.”
Wells responded to the situation last week, saying “Diego Morales’ victims need to be heard and believed. It takes tremendous courage in coming forward, and the last thing I want is for their personal sacrifice to be for naught. While this race has been focused on safeguarding our right to vote, we too must safeguard a woman’s right to exist in the workplace free of sexual harassment and assault. For weeks we have seen mounting evidence that Diego will say and do anything to get what he wants—as Hoosiers, I know this is not in line with our values—we have had enough.”
Capital Chronicle Editor Niki Kelly and Reporter Casey Smith contributed reporting.
The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.