FORT WAYNE – Traditional media grassroots reporting has shriveled. Without large congregations of people, not to mention the waiting on results that often come days later, predicting results is on even more unstable ground.

The Indiana Democrats, in hindsight, provided one of the most exciting convention contests in Indiana history. Former Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel defeated Portage State Sen. Karen Tallian, 1057 to 1009. When 2,000 delegates vote and the margin is 48, it is a cliff-hanger by any definition. Had 25 voters switched, Tallian would have won. Some 17% of the delegates didn’t vote, which means around 300 of them. I’ve done many, many whip counts.  Nothing is more difficult than not knowing who is voting in a close contest.  

Narrowly nominating Weinzapfel over Tallian did spare the Democrats the illogical slate of two of their top three candidates being from The Region. It should raise some concern among Republicans because it means that, albeit by only a switch of 25 voters, the Democrats may not be as focused on making strategic mistakes this year. Weinzapfel, a talented and proven candidate in the competitive southwestern region, still faces the challenge of being a liberal in a state that no observer would consider liberal.

But the two Democratic candidates at least represented some chaos control the Republicans do not have. Attorney General Curtis Hill and former Congressman Todd Rokita have both won many elections and have somewhat defined support. Were this a primary, and barring millions being spent by any challenger (a huge assumption in this era), they would be the clear favorites.  But it isn’t a primary; it is a chaotic COVID “Kind-of-Convention.”

I’ve tried to analyze Facebook endorsements and chatter for the four candidates that include Nate Harter and John Westercamp. This does not include all of them but was representative through June 24. It does shed light.

In other words, in a close primary or convention, taking sides is viewed as more dangerous than getting COVID by Republican leaders and elected officials. A pre-existing condition would be to have backed others who lost, especially if those who were defeated were backed by the governor and other influential elected officials. If you don’t care who you offend, your influence is defined and probably limited inside even your own county delegation.

I personally feel all four candidates are qualified for the job and conservative. I do not favor any particular candidate.  

First, incumbent Attorney General Curtis Hill. His problems are clear and so are his advantages. Social conservatives are his core supporters, including Jim Bopp of Vigo County and Cathie Humbarger of Allen County, the two most influential Right-to-Life leaders in the state. Long-time activists like Monica Boyer (Kosciusko) and Linda Zimmerman (Whitley) are also publicly backing him. Hill has the continued support of prosecutors in key counties like Tippecanoe.  He should not be underestimated, especially since public support for him has more risk.

Todd Rokita has historic connections in his former congressional district in central Indiana and Lake, the county that propelled him in his original secretary of state convention win. Rokita’s Facebook endorsements include State Sens. Ryan Mishler (Kosciusko) and Rick Niemeyer (Lake), as well as State Reps. Denny Zent of Steuben and Heath VanNatter (Howard). Rokita has picked up diverse endorsements from delegates including Washington County Chair Tara Coats, former state senator Tom Weatherwax (Cass) and former Evansville city councilwoman Michelle Mercer. He also has the endorsement of 3rd District Vice-Chair Mary Trausch-Martin, possibly the most enthusiastic activist I have ever known. Rokita has the sort of delegate spread indicative of an experienced statewide candidate.

John Westercamp and Nate Harter are two younger candidates from central Indiana who, like Hill and Rokita, are conservatives. They emerged as the early challengers to incumbent Hill.  Westercamp had some early supporters before Harter and Rokita entered the race that had shown the establishment (i.e. the Holcomb-Pence-Coats base that is currently the most dominant) was tilting his way. He also has the public endorsement of 3rd District Chairman Mitch Harper, stating: “I respect his legal acumen, tenacity, and deep and thoughtful defense of constitutional rights.” Westercamp’s Facebook page touts the endorsement of Boone County Councilman Kevin Van Horn. Boone is less populated but an increasingly important part of the Indianapolis donut counties. Activists such as Daniel Kinnamon (Hendricks) also have stated support for Westercamp. The donut counties seem to tilt for Westercamp and Harter.

An analysis of Facebook makes something very clear: It is Harter who is the “establishment” choice. The former Decatur County prosecutor was Hill’s deputy, up until very recently. He has experience in office and as a prosecutor, even if his electoral experience is only in a county with 25,000 people. But this is not a primary. The voters are primarily Republican activists, donors and/or elected officials.  

Harter has the public endorsements of five congressional district chairs: 4th, Mike O’Brien; 5th, Judy Buck; 7th, Lesa Dietrick; 8th, Don Hayes; 9th, Jamey Noel. That is five of nine. Dietrick is also a principal of IceMiller, at which Indiana GOP National Committeeman John Hammond III is the Public Affairs Group co-chair.

Harter has the endorsements of two state reps and three state senators that I could easily count. The most important one is State Sen. Mark Messmer, the majority leader and close ally of U.S. Sen. Mike Braun. He also has the endorsements of the county chairs of Bartholomew, Crawford, Ripley, Rush, and Shelby. In order words, he has strong public support in southern and south central Indiana, including in former congressman Luke Messer’s district.

In addition to endorsements, frequent “likes” of political posts that clearly support the candidate are also an indicator of support. Influential Anne Hathaway, now a political consultant and a Republican godmother of sorts, is enthusiastic about Harter as is Brian Gamache, who works for Hathaway Strategies. Others who have not “endorsed” but appear frequently also are interesting including Oliver Henderson, a former field director for Sen. Braun and Theresa Green, a college student and young Republican leader who won a hard-fought nomination for Whitley County commissioner in the primary. They are examples of Harter’s younger supporters, which Westercamp also has brought to the Party.  

There obviously are flaws to Facebook analysis, but it does make this clear: If Harter does not win, no centralized party control exists. The Republicans, like the Democrats, are not the controlled parties of the old days. But if this many district chairs and other leaders cannot lead a candidate to victory in a convention designed to be relatively controlled, Republicans could become as disorganized as the Democrats. 
 
Souder is a former Republican congressman from Indiana.