The big question among Indiana Republicans this year is this: Are you voting straight ticket Republican or are you voting “straight Donalds?”
Voting “straight Donalds” means a vote for Donald Trump for president and for Libertarian candidate Donald Rainwater for governor.
For the first time in the history of the state, a Libertarian candidate could conceivably win the Indiana governor’s race.
Support for incumbent Republican Eric Holcomb has dropped from 64 percent in May to 36 percent in a September poll of 1,033 likely voters by Indy Politics/Change Research. The Democrat, Woody Myers, came in at 30 percent in the same poll with Rainwater at 24 percent, though many people hadn’t heard of him. The remaining 10 percent were undecided.
Those numbers sent shockwaves through the state. Some people, including State Rep. Curt Nisly, doubted at first whether they could be accurate. But Nisly said after listening to the pollster explain the poll methodology on a radio show in the state, he believes they are.
Republican support for Holcomb in the state has almost vanished, as he tells it.
“It’s pretty much across the board,” Nisly says. “It’s hard to find people who really want to or say they’ll vote for Holcomb.”
“I think that Holcomb has been living in this bubble of Indianapolis all summer,” he says. “I don’t think he knows what’s going on out here in the rest of the state, what people are thinking right now.”
What are they thinking?
The Facebook page Indiana Republicans Against Eric Holcomb has more than 4,900 members whose anger at the governor rages throughout the day and often late into the night.
Their biggest complaints are the governor’s orders shutting down businesses, his statewide mask mandate issued in July and the fact that he allowed Planned Parenthood to continue performing abortions during the early stages of the shutdown when all other doctors’ offices were forced to remain closed.
But they also mention his alleged ties to Communist China, support for tax increases and what they see as a cozy relationship with the state teacher’s union.
Another Facebook page, Republicans for Rainwater, has more than 10,000 members and is filled with memes socking it to Holcomb.
One says: “I’m old enough to remember when Holcomb tried to make not wearing a mask punishable with 6 months in jail. Vote Rainwater!” — a reference to Holcomb saying he planned to make not wearing a mask, even outside when social distancing isn’t possible, a Class B misdemeanor.
Rainwater, a software engineer and IT manager, opposes all such mandates, and says he’d eliminate the state income tax and property tax and support constitutional carry, making it legal to open carry and conceal carry in the state with no permit required. He’s also pro-life and supports the enforcement of immigration laws.
“He has a chance,” grassroots organizer Robert Hall says of Rainwater. “Holcomb’s support among the conservative base has just fallen out.”
Hall has helped organize and promote anti-shutdown and anti-mask rallies in Indianapolis.
The governor’s advisors, he says, “were in La La Land” as Republicans in the state became increasingly angered at the state mandates aimed at controlling the COVID-19 virus.
“They sheltered him totally… I think they just thought he was invulnerable,” he says. “They weren’t paying attention to the Facebook posts, they weren’t paying attention to the grassroots complaints, they were just oblivious to the resistance that he was getting.”
Now, he says, it may be too late.
“The hatred for [Holcomb] is just immense,” Hall said. “And everybody’s going to Rainwater. There’s a few that won’t vote for governor. But the people that are switching are going to Rainwater.”
Nisly, who represents a conservative district in the northern part of the state southeast of South Bend, wrote a letter to Holcomb in March arguing that the shutdown orders violated the state constitution.
In late July, after the mask mandate, he and five other state representatives, all Republicans, signed on to a letter urging Holcomb to call a special session of the Indiana General Assembly, which has had no role in managing the COVID-19 crisis as it adjourned in mid-March. He said there was no reply to either letter.
Attorney General Curtis Hill also sent a letter to the governor and leaders of the General Assembly, urging them to call a special session, and says he also received no reply.
“The input of the people is not being felt at the executive level,” he told InsideSources of the situation in Indianapolis.
But could a Libertarian really win the governor’s race in such a solidly Republican state?
In 2016, the Libertarian candidate for governor in the state got just 3.2 percent of the vote, and no one can remember a Libertarian candidate for statewide office doing much better than 4 percent. But 2020 has been an unusual year.
“I still think it’s inconceivable,” said Nisly, “but it looks like it might be a possibility.”
Defeat of Holcomb would certainly make waves. He was Vice President Mike Pence’s hand-picked No. 2, serving as lieutenant governor of Indiana for several months in 2016 when Pence was governor.
He was Pence’s running mate in the re-election race in the state in 2016 before Pence was chosen as President Trump’s running mate and withdrew from his race for re-election as Indiana’s governor.
Holcomb stepped in as a candidate for the top spot, winning his party’s nomination at the state convention that summer. He won the governorship with just 51 percent of the vote, while Trump got 57 percent in the state.
Both the Indiana Republican Party and Gov. Holcomb’s office declined comment.