Front-runner Mike Braun looks to break away from field in governor’s race

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Of the five leading candidates vying for the Republican nomination in the governor’s race, U.S. Sen. Mike Braun would appear to be the front-runner in several respects.

His position as a U.S. senator earns him regular appearances on CNBC and Fox News and frequent mentions in national news publications, boosting his name recognition. He’s secured endorsements from well-funded conservative political advocacy groups like Americans for Prosperity and Club for Growth. And with the backing of former President Donald Trump—the current overwhelming favorite for the Republican presidential nomination—Braun earns the trust of the Republican base.

But for this campaign, he also has the kind of Washington, D.C., experience that could cause some voters to label him as an “insider,” a much different persona than he projected when he ran in 2018 as a political outsider for his first and only term in the U.S. Senate.

Braun, who will turn 70 in March, said he is proud of his time in the Senate. He said his office has helped close over 12,000 constituent cases by acting as a liaison between Hoosiers and federal agencies like the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“We had as good a freshman Senate term today [as] you could expect,” Braun told IBJ. “You’re expected to watch, listen, stick around for three terms, maybe three decades, but I’m a big believer in term limits, and would say unequivocally that we need more entrepreneurs and business owners to get into politics, because government’s actually easier than, I think, running a business.”

Mike Braun ran in 2018 for the U.S. Senate as an outsider. But his five years in a very visible public office (seen here in 2023 with Congressional Budget Office Director Phillip Swagel) now give him an insider’s edge in the gubernatorial race. (AP photo)

While no nonpartisan-sponsored polls have been released in the GOP gubernatorial race, a poll conducted for the Braun campaign in late December showed him with a significant lead.

The statewide poll of 1,300 likely GOP voters showed Braun favored by 40% of respondents, ahead of Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch at 13%, former Indiana Secretary of Commerce Brad Chambers at 5%, former Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill at 5% and Fort Wayne businessman Eric Doden at 3%. Thirty percent said they were undecided. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

If Braun wins the Republican nomination, he will face Jennifer McCormick, the former state education superintendent who is running unopposed on the Democratic ticket.

Braun self-funded his 2018 Senate run to the tune of $6 million, but he doesn’t need to dip into his personal fortune this time around. After five years in D.C., Braun has access to a wealthy network of GOP donors and political action committees.

He raised $4.4 million in 2023, more than any other gubernatorial candidate except for the largely self-funded Chambers, who loaned $5 million of his own money to his campaign. Braun reported more than $4 million cash on hand at the end of 2023, and that was before getting a $1 million check from Richard Uihlein, founder of Illinois-based packaging giant Uline and a frequent donor to conservative candidates.

But one of Braun’s strengths could also be a weakness if the political tides begin to turn against Trump, who is facing criminal charges related to allegedly mishandling classified White House documents, to his Manhattan business dealings, to the Jan. 6 insurrection and to his stolen election claims.

A jury recently ordered Trump to pay an $83 million civil penalty to writer E. Jean Carroll in her defamation case against him, though the verdict hasn’t hurt his poll numbers.

Laura Wilson

If Trump were to be convicted of one of the 91 criminal charges pending against him, the former president’s endorsement could work against Braun, according to some political observers. But it could also solidify support for Trump and political allies such as Braun.

“Braun’s most obvious liability is also his greatest asset: Trump,” said Laura Wilson, professor of political science at the University of Indianapolis. “The endorsement helps Braun with the very loyal Trump supporters and adds credibility to his old ‘outsider’ status.”

Once an outsider

The last time U.S. Sen. Mike Braun ran for elected office, he was firmly a Washington outsider.

Born in Jasper, Braun studied economics at Wabash College before enrolling at Harvard University. After graduating with an MBA, Braun moved back home to southern Indiana.

In 1981, he started working for Meyer Body Inc., a company partially owned by his dad. In 1995, Braun acquired full ownership of the 15-employee company, which he later renamed Meyer Distributing and grew into a nationwide competitor in the logistics business.

That has made him very wealthy. According to his most recent financial disclosure form filed with the U.S. Senate, Braun held assets valued at $8 million to $29 million, including stock in Meyer Distributing.

His first foray into politics came in 2004, when he ran and won a seat on the Greater Jasper Consolidated Schools Board, where his intelligence and business expertise, combined with his easygoing manner, impressed his colleagues.

Greg Eckerle

“He’s the kind of fella who will take the time to talk to anybody, no matter your walk of life,” recalled Greg Eckerle, who served on the school board with Braun for six years. “What I noticed at school board meetings was a high level of intelligence and a quick grasp of complex issues.”

In 2014, Mark Messmer, a Republican from Jasper, decided to leave his seat in the Indiana House of Representatives and run for state Senate. He called Braun to see if he had any interest in running for state representative. Braun did, and he easily won the primary and ran unopposed in the general election.

At the Statehouse, Braun authored legislation on property tax relief and conservation issues and called for greater transparency in health care costs. In his final year in the Legislature, he worked with Republicans to increase the state’s gas tax 10 cents a gallon to provide for additional road funding.

In November 2017, Braun was midway through his second term as a state lawmaker when he decided to resign and throw his hat into the 2018 U.S. Senate race.

Two other contenders, 6th District congressman Luke Messer and Todd Rokita, then the representative for Indiana’s 4th Congressional District, had already been locked in a battle for the Republican nomination when Braun entered the fray.

Outside of his hometown or the halls of the Statehouse, Braun was largely unknown and was seen as a long shot. But that quickly changed when Braun used $6 million of his own money to launch an advertising blitz.

Braun saw an opening for himself. So he traveled around the state in his signature blue button-down collared shirt, holding two life-size cardboard cutouts of Messer and Braun, both wearing similar blue suits and red ties.

His campaign used the footage for a 30-second ad that ran across the state, essentially asking Hoosiers if they could tell the difference between the supposed D.C. swamp creatures.

That prompted Politico to run a feature on Braun with the headline, “Indiana mystery man upends bloody GOP Senate primary.”

Braun easily won the primary and went on to beat incumbent Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly by 12 points, flipping a key Senate seat in the 2018 midterm elections.

His race to lose?

This time around, Braun doesn’t need to resort to histrionics; he can run on his record, name recognition and a vast fundraising network. He told IBJ he doesn’t plan to run any negative campaign commercials but recognizes he will likely be the main target of any attack ads that hit the airwaves in the coming months.

Other campaigns likely will have to get creative to outflank Braun. In a recent gubernatorial forum, Hill accused Braun of “quitting” the Senate, and the Chambers campaign recently accused Braun of “playing politics” with the border crisis after he joined Trump’s call to denounce the Senate border deal.

“U.S. Sen Mike Braun should do the job that Hoosiers sent him to Washington, D.C., to do—to get things done, not play politics,” said Marty Obst, chief campaign strategist for Chambers. “Our country’s front door is closed, and our back door remains wide open. Meanwhile, career politicians like U.S. Sen. Mike Braun would rather talk about it than do something about it. It’s unacceptable, and yet another example of why Indiana can’t afford a career politician as its next governor.”

Brad Jackson

Braun’s longtime supporters insist he hasn’t been compromised by Washington.

“I don’t think it’s changed Mike at all,” said Brad Jackson, a Kosciusko County commissioner who let Braun stay at his house during his 2018 Senate campaign. “I always used to say, ‘Some things happen to people, and some people happen to things,’ and Braun is the latter. He’s a strong leader and not influenced by stuff like that.”•

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10 thoughts on “Front-runner Mike Braun looks to break away from field in governor’s race

  1. If voters no nothing of Braun, by now have been exposed his ad nauseam television ad touting that he is “endorsed by President Trump.” The fact the the twice-impeached, four times indicted ex-president endorsed Braun says all you need to know about his character and philosophy. Ugh.

    1. The more your ilk hates people like Braun, the stronger they become.

      Another indictment from the Deep State would only make the endorsement even more ringing. And yes, these impeachments and indictments reveal a great deal about the characters of the people initiating them. How many cases are collapsing because the DAs and AGs pressing charges can no longer hide their own corruption behind the media more than willing to do their bidding? Are ANY of those cases still on firm footing?

    2. Oh Lauren, failing to admit that Jack Smith’s cases against Trump for his attempts to (1) deny the peaceful transfer of power on January 20, 2021 and for (2) his illegal possession of classified documents and his attempts to obstruct the investigation of that crime are solid and air tight. Not even Trump’s claim of lifetime immunity from indictments holds water, or will save him from convictions.

    3. If Trump isn’t elected in November will Braun just go home?

      He’s done literally nothing since Biden was elected because he only knows how to listen to his deep state puppet masters like Trump

    4. So Brent, we must have missed your endorsement of the prosection of the current dementia patient in the White House for his mishandling of classified material. I mean the guy wasn’t even president at the time. Or maybe you’re ust the kind that would follow a Democrat straight of a cliff….. You know. A cult.

    5. Here’s the reality …

      Probably every president and vice president over the past few decades has mishandled classified documents. I bet if you sent the squads in on Bush and Obama, they’d find something tucked away somewhere and forgotten. I wouldn’t be surprised if folks at various Presidential libraries have found things and quietly turned them over.

      What gets people in trouble is when they, instead of saying “my bad” and giving it all back, like Pence and Biden did … they act like a 4 year old and go to insane lengths to keep things by hiding them.

      Want to throw the book at Hillary for what she did with her servers? Argue it’s disqualifying? Fine. Trump did worse. “I can declassify documents just by thinking about it?” But people who refuse to vote for Trump are in a cult? Sure.

      Just stop trying to tell us that a bunch of clowns selected for their fealty to Donald Trump is an improvement over his nebulous “Deep State” you all claim is the worst thing in the world. The first Trump administration put paid to the lie that a Trump Presidency would attract all the best people.

      We get it, you did poorly in world history and didn’t pay attention to how badly all the personality cults end. You just sat there and nodded like a puppy like Tucker did with Putin. Maybe he was afraid he would fall out of a tall building if he asked any tough questions.

  2. At one point, Braun was the better of Indiana’s two senators. After the events of Jan 6th, he changed his mind and decided to do the right thing and certify the election. Todd Young did not change his decision, and gaslighted a good portion of the country by doing so.

    Since then, though, Young has become much more of a moderate – even co-authoring the CHIPS Act witt Senator Schumer – and Braun hasn’t done a single thing except try to ride the sorry coattails of Trump.

  3. Can we stop electing 70 year olds to jobs they aren’t fit to hold? Braun is retiring from the Senate where he got literally nothing done, for a job that is 100x more demanding. Indiana deserves better. I hope people will actually consider what’s at stake and elect someone capable of leading Indiana forward, not taking it backwards.

  4. Like who? Mike? I love the he did nothing argument….. good I don’t want senators doing much. The more they do… The more they screw up the country. Every federal law that is passed further restricts our liberty.

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