By BRIAN A. HOWEY in Indianapolis
and MARK SCHOEFF JR.,
in Washington
 
As we unveil the 2020 version of the Howey Politics Indiana Power 50 List, Hoosiers appear to be relatively satisfied with their state government, unsure about the federals and specifically President Trump, and are most concerned about health care and the economy.

These are the latest survey numbers from the We Ask America Poll conducted in early December for the Indiana Manufacturers Association. They accentuate the formulation of our annual Power 50 list headed by Vice President Mike Pence, Gov. Eric Holcomb, former South Bend mayor and Democratic presidential contender Pete Buttigieg, and the state’s two Republican senators who will likely sit in judgment (and acquittal) of President Trump in an impeachment trial later this month. 

As Pence appears to be heading off thinly veiled attempts by Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump to get him off the 2020 ticket, Hoosiers by 47.4% approve to 47.7% disapprove of President Trump’s job performance. This is consistent with 2019 polling by Ball State University and Morning Consult. On the national right/wrong track, just 37% of registered voters in Indiana feel that the country is headed in the right direction, while a majority, 52%, say that things have gotten off on the wrong track, including 51% of independents and 26% of Republicans. Among female voters, the right/wrong track split is 29%/58%.

This is a fascinating statistic, given the record low unemployment (54% of Hoosiers think of the jobs situation as “good times”) and the bullishly unbridled stock markets.

As for the Indiana right/wrong track, 47% see the state on the right track, while 36% say wrong track. Gov. Eric Holcomb’s job approval stands at 51% while 25% disapprove and a relatively high 25% have no opinion. That may be a reflection on how President Trump dominates news cycles, as well as the local and state press which is in atrophy.

As for his reelection, an almost identical 51% believe Gov. Holcomb deserves a second term (26%) or 25% saying he “probably” does, while 24% say no.

The 2020 list also features Buttigieg at No.3. He is in a three-way tie in Iowa and is competitive in New Hampshire after raising north of $70 million. Not bad for a Hoosier mayor of a 100,000-population city. If he prevails in those two states, with Politico describing him as the “linchpin” in the race, that could propel him well into the national realm.

The 2020 Power 50 has been shaped by the opioid crisis, and what appears to be an unprecedented Indiana Supreme Court showdown that could determine the fate of embattled Attorney General Curtis Hill, who faces a two-year suspension of his law license. If he loses that license – even for a couple of days or weeks – would that give Gov. Holcomb the leverage to remove the Republican he has called on to resign? If that happens, will that head off a bizarre Republican convention showdown in June?

In the We Ask America Poll (conducted online between Dec.5-15, with 1,000 interviews and a MOE at +/- 3.1%) Hoosier voters care about affordable healthcare and a stable economy.  Asked to rank what issues they’d like the governor and legislators in Indianapolis to focus on in the new year, Hoosiers focused primarily on creating jobs and improving the economy while making health care more affordable.

These issues help shape the 2020 HPI Power 50 List on who is most likely to shape and steer events for the coming year. Here is our list:

1. Vice President Mike Pence:
Who can question the vice president’s killer instincts on his lifelong quest for 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.? He anted up for the veep nomination at a time in 2016 when most establishment Republicans were brandishing 10-foot poles. He was the difference maker during the post “Access Hollywood” home stretch victory run. He appears to have weathered President Trump’s most wild and profane excesses, from the race-baiting MAGA rally tropes aimed at The Squad, to Robert Mueller’s Russia Probe, to the Ukraine scandal that brought on the current impeachment debacle, and now Jarvanka’s Machiavellian behind-the-scenes palace coups. Awaiting Pence in 2020 will be the likely futile inside attempts to force him off the ticket this spring and early summer, amid the “anything goes” antics of President Trump in his bid to use impeachment to beat the “socialist” Democrats and win a second term. Politico is already looking beyond 2020 to 2024, noting that Pence is already pressing the swing state flesh. There are other clues that indicate Pence is thinking of what a successful presidential campaign might look like in a post-MAGA landscape. Like Trump, he has formed a close circle of loyal advisers both inside and outside the White House, who often work to insulate Pence from controversy whenever the president does something that sets Washington ablaze. He leans heavily on his former chief of staff Nick Ayers, his gubernatorial campaign manager Marty Obst, Club for Growth president David McIntosh, and his current chief of staff Marc Short, according to a person close to Pence. “They basically try to keep him clean from any of the day-to-day messes that are happening,” the person said. “That’s part of why he travels so much and why he’s glad to do these day-long bus tours, which get him out of D.C. and in front of the same voters he will need if he runs for president in the near future.” Pence has proven to be a Trump-era survivor with the type of Teflon veneer that would have made The Gipper and his Fellas proud. Look for Pence to continue to bone up his foreign policy cred with forays warning of a rising China to regime change in Venezuela.

2. Gov. Eric Holcomb: He enters 2020 in the consequentially strongest position of any modern Hoosier governor. Not only does he have an $8 million cash advantage over his eventual Democratic challenger, he faces reelection with President Trump and Vice President Pence atop the ticket, and may be in a position to select the next attorney general if the Supreme Court gives him that opening, as well as the next superintendent of public instruction. With the change of the guard underway in the Indiana General Assembly, he faces a second term where he will be the senior power broker. In the We Ask America Poll on behalf of the Indiana Manufacturers Association, Gov. Holcomb’s job approval stands at 51% approve and 25% disapprove. While the governor is underwater with Democrats at a net -12% job approval (30% approve/43% disapprove), he sits +17% (40% approve/23% disapprove) with independents and +61% (73% Approve/12% Disapprove) with Republicans. Among men, 61% approve of his job performance while just 23% disapprove. Among the key demographic women voters, 41% approve while 28% disapprove. The job approval almost exactly mirrors his reelect numbers. As the We Ask America pollster noted, “Among those (who) are unsure, the governor’s job approval sits right-side up at 22% approve/12% disapprove. While there exists a path to knocking off the governor, it’s a narrow one.” The right/wrong track numbers in the We Ask America Poll shows 47% believe the state is on the right track, compared to 36% who believe it’s on the wrong track. The We Ask America Poll reflects similar findings by Morning Consult and the Ball State Hoosier Poll from November. Holcomb appeared to open the door to teacher pay raises this year. That constituency represents the greatest peril to his reelection, so if he can neutralize that grassroots movement that helped defeat Supt. Tony Bennett in 2012, he faces a glide path in 2020. In 2018 and 2019, his Next Level agenda was achieved, allowing the governor to hand out million dollar checks to cities and counties. He is on a path to doing the same with his $90 million trails program, as well as expanding rural broadband. “Because of the hard work of Hoosiers, Indiana has become a destination of certainty and stability, but we can’t stop there,” Holcomb said when he unveiled his Next Level agenda in December. “As I travel the state, I hear people concerned about rising health care costs, the increase in youth vaping, and our education system. My goal is to listen to their concerns and find solutions to build a bolder, brighter future.”

3. Pete Buttigieg: South Bend’s “Mayor Pete” has become what Politico describes as the “linchpin” in the Democratic presidential race. It will likely be either Pete or one of the septuagenarians (Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren) for the Democratic nomination. Successful recent Democratic presidents (JFK, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama) were all young first-time, progressive candidates. When Buttigieg declared himself a candidate about a year ago, even many Hoosier Democrats were pinching themselves to make sure this wasn’t a dream. When he posted a $19 million second quarter FEC haul, he became a credible contender. When he delivered a sobering foreign policy address at IU last June, he won the imprimatur (privately) of many Lugarites. At this writing, he leads the polls heading into next month’s Iowa caucuses and is among the frontrunners in New Hampshire. If he wins either one or both, all eyes will be on him in South Carolina, where the support of African-Americans has been elusive for this gay Democrat. Can Buttigieg become the first Hoosier to win a Democratic nomination for president? Or the first Hoosier nominee since Wendell Willkie in 1940? And if he does, could he carry Indiana in November? Those are the current $64,000 questions, but at this point, our take is the sky is the limit for this 37-year-old former mayor. If he were to win the nomination and upset President Trump this November, he would be the youngest president, and the first mayor to go directly from city hall to the White House. If Buttigieg is denied the nomination, it would be easy to see him on the ticket, or in a future Democratic administration.

4. U.S. Sen. Todd Young: No one in the Indiana congressional delegation has more at stake on impeachment than Young. His challenge is not deciding how to vote following a Senate trial – whenever one finally gets underway. There’s no doubt he’ll vote to acquit President Trump. But how does he get to that conclusion and still maintain a valuable political asset, the image of being a serious legislator? At times, he says he will weigh the evidence and make a decision in the best interests of Indiana. But then he puts out a Dec. 17 email from his campaign arm, Friends of Todd Young, that says, “Join Senator Todd Young now and take a stand to defend President Trump – Add your name today!” That’s hardly the tone of an impartial juror. He walks a similar tight rope on Trump’s proclivity to project being a tough-guy executive who doesn’t need to involve Congress in his decisions. Young is carving out a niche for himself on foreign policy as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. After Trump ordered a military attack against Iranian Gen. Qaesem Soleimani that resulted in Soleimani’s death, Young put out a statement in support of Trump’s action but also cautioned that Congress must be involved in consideration of the next steps against Iran. Young can’t be a serious legislator and acquiesce to Trump’s running roughshod over Congress on Iran or any other aspect of Middle East policy. Young’s future in the Senate GOP will be bright if he can help the party maintain its majority this fall as the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

5. U.S. Sen. Mike Braun:
There’s no point in monitoring Braun to see when he will distance himself from President Trump on anything. He owes his Senate seat to Trump’s coming to Indiana to campaign for him in the final days of the 2018 election. It helped put Braun over the top in his defeat of Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly. Whatever Trump does, no matter how unpresidential or politically questionable, there’s little chance Braun will do anything other than stand shoulder-to-shoulder with him. His go-to tactic is to justify whatever Trump does as an example of Trump’s being a political disrupter, a mantle that Braun also proudly takes on for himself. Braun’s challenge is to become more than a back-bencher gadfly. He has to develop a signature approach to addressing important policy issues. There’s some indication he might do that. One area is the environment. In October, he co-founded the bipartisan Senate Climate Solutions Caucus, which sounds as if it will do more than deny that climate change is a reality. He could directly impact the lives of many of his Hoosier constituents through his work on the Senate Agriculture Committee. He also could have a hand in restoring the GOP’s badly damaged reputation as opponents of profligate federal spending through his work on the Senate Budget Committee. He also has indicated a willingness to delve into health care policy and develop solutions that are based on what he says worked for employees of his manufacturing business. Braun’s high ranking in the HPI 50 has to do with potential. But he’s got to prove that he’s more than a disrupter.

6. Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray:
The Martinsville Republican heads into his second session at the helm attempting to deflect the “Red for Ed” movement that had more than 15,000 teachers turn out at the Indiana Statehouse on Organization Day. Bray, Gov. Holcomb and Speaker Brian Bosma have been adamant that they will not be open to legislation on comprehensive teacher pay raises until the 2021 biennial budget session. “We look forward to a short session, where we’re going to not fix all this – I can assure you it’s much too complex to do that – but really begin to move the state forward,” Bray said. Another thorny issue is holding teachers harmless from the poor ILEARN scores. In October, Bray and Bosma urged the Department of Education to tell schools they can use 2018 testing data to calculate teacher appreciation grants. “Directing schools to take advantage of this flexibility will ensure that TAG’s are received by teachers before the statutory deadline in December, and will ensure that no teacher will lose eligibility for a TAG because of this year’s ILEARN results,” Bray and Bosma wrote in a letter to DOE. Bray will spend this session pushing Gov. Holcomb’s agenda.

7. Secretary of State Connie Lawson: After the Russians attempted to hack a number of state election systems in 2016, Lawson holds the most conspicuous office when it comes to election security. As the state’s chief elections officer, she has been emphatic that Indiana’s electoral process has not been compromised, nor is it in a position to be, as it is not connected to the Internet and consists of 92 county components. But a Dec. 21, 2019, story in the Columbus Republic noted a recent 2020 Indiana Election Administrators Conference sponsored by Lawson’s office urged the 450 local elections officials to draft “doomsday” response scenarios that include a cyberattack directed at the county’s voting systems, theft or physical tampering of electronic poll books and a catastrophic natural disaster that wipes out electricity and cellphone towers. The threat of foreign elections hacking persists, and it goes beyond the Russians. Lawson will become the voice of election integrity in this state during these times of anxiety.

8. Speakers Brian Bosma and Todd Huston:
Bosma arranged for Huston to become “Speaker-elect” during last November’s Organization Day. It doesn’t quite create the dual speakers of the 50/50 House era, but it gives Huston his second apprenticeship after serving as co-chair of the Ways & Means Committee during Dr. Tim Brown’s recuperation period. For Bosma, this session will be his political swan song. Close political associates tell HPI they don’t anticipate future runs for governor or Congress. Bosma will leave as the longest serving speaker in his two stints, and one who brought transparency to the process with internet streaming of session days and committees. His tenure will be marked by a series of tax cuts and the historic 2011 education vouchers, which he says will mark his most significant achievement. It also planted the seeds for the “Red for Ed” showdown for this session and the 2021 biennial budget year. With no biennial budget this year, and the notion that this coming session will wrap up quickly in an election year. Speaker-elect Huston should be able to get acclimated to what is considered the second most powerful office in the Statehouse. He served as former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett’s chief of staff, so he has been exposed to the trappings and controversies of power. He knows how to frame policy issues into law. Come next fall, all eyes will be on Huston’s reelection bid. Huston defeated Democrat Aimee Rivera Cole by just 2,772 votes or with 54.5% in 2018. In 2016 Huston defeated Democrat Mike Boland 64-36%, or by a little less than 10,000 votes. Expect Indiana Republicans to take overt measures to protect this new speaker, particularly with the “Red for Ed” movement seeking to bring the issue of teacher pay to the fore this session.

9. Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch: She’s the governor’s biggest individual donor and they have a closer relationship than the prior two administrations. If the governor wants to look at legacy where he helps bring in the first female or minority governor in the state’s history, the LG is in a solid spot for consideration. She’s tireless, has great legislative relationships, and raises money at a level we’ve never seen from someone in that job. Her executive portfolio, that includes the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, Office of Community and Rural Affairs and Office of Tourism Development (soon to be the Indiana Destination Development Corporation) has been sans drama during her tenure. Will she break the Hoosier glass ceiling in 2024 when the governor’s seat is expected to be an open one? High ranking Republicans we talk with are filled with admiration of Crouch, but they do not consider her nomination at the top of the state ticket in 2024 to be a fait accompli – at this point. One reason is she would be 72 if she were to take office in 2025 and would turn 73 the following month. And there will be competition, most likely from U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, with one prominent Republican mentioning Ivy Tech President and former LG Sue Ellspermann as a potential contender. But if Crouch gets into that race, expect her to be a force to be reckoned with as she will possess the instruments of the LG’s office and her chair of the Indiana Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission.

10. Dr. Woody Myers: There are two Democrats seeking the gubernatorial nomination, former Indiana and New York City health commissioner Woody Myers and gay businessman Josh Owens. We see the nomination likely going to Myers. Myers entered the race first and is preparing to challenge Gov. Holcomb on the perception that the state is hitting on all cylinders. In an August HPI Interview, Myers said, “We’ve bought plenty of Band-Aids. We’re putting them on a lot of the problems of the state. We need to look deeper into why some of these problems exist and figuring out the root causes; working with colleagues and experts on those problems is a much better way to go.” In calling for more treatment options for those with opioid addiction, Myers was asked how he would pay for those services. “Well, that’s why we have a surplus. Isn’t that why ... we have it, for emergencies? I would much rather see the multiple millions of dollars going to be invested in a (state fair) swine barn used to improve treatment access slots and for things that are truly a crisis in our state.” We see Owens as what we call a “stunt candidate.” He has little background or relationships in the Democratic Party. If Pete Buttigieg took a pass on this gubernatorial stepping stone, it’s hard to imagine Owens finding the kind of traction to win the nomination.

11. Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer: He is one of the governor’s most trusted advisers and closest friends. He occupies two incredibly important jobs and will spend 2020 on the road with the governor. In 2019, Indiana Republicans increased their lead in city halls from seven to 23, and are now preparing to reelect Gov. Holcomb and defend the congressional delegation and its General Assembly super majorities. “We’re obviously not taking anything for granted and we’re going to keep our foot on the gas through next November’s election,” Hupfer told HPI in December. “We’ve certainly continued on the upward trajectory since he was elected. The governor was as active as any I’ve ever seen in mayoral races. He took us from plus seven to plus 23 Republican mayors across the state. As Team Holcomb between his campaign and state party, we sent, jointly, mail in 60 races, we sent out ballot applications in dozens of races and we saw historic victories in places like Kokomo and Muncie. That’s only going to grow the field of who we have to help us next November.” Hupfer is wearing two hats, the other as the governor’s campaign manager. “The other historic show of strength is to have the ballot qualification signatures in hand in October,” Hupfer continued. “To have those in hand on Oct. 1 is really unheard of. Our ground game infrastructure is only getting stronger. It got stronger during the Braun Senate race with state party in charge of the ground game; we were able to flex that for mayoral races and that will continue. Probably by mid- to late-January we’ll announce our entire statewide team with county coordinators in every county, we’ll have our five regional directors in place; we already have four of them. We are already 75% to 80% staffed. The Congress of Counties in January will be the beginning of our ground game.”

12. ISTA President Keith Gambill: He is serving a three-year term and is seeking to make teacher pay the top General Assembly and election issue. “Salaries are first and foremost,” Gambill said. “Too many educators are seeing much, if not all, of their wage increases being eaten up by increased health care costs. Secondly, respect for our work and allowing us the professional courtesy to make the decisions that are in the best interest of our students.” Gambill was able to generate more than 15,000 teachers for the Organization Day “Red for Ed” rally, but faces the “red wall,” or GOP leadership intent on taking a comprehensive approach during the 2021 biennial budget session. Gambill explained that without an immediate “good faith” investment this year, Indiana won’t be able to keep up with teacher salaries in surrounding states. “And to think that we can wait a year and we’re going to be closer to meeting that goal is short-sighted,” he told WFYI. Gambill previously served two terms as the ISTA vice president and as president of the Evansville Teachers Association before assuming the role of ISTA president. Gambill, a middle school music and drama teacher, has taught in Evansville’s public schools for more than 30 years.

13. Mike Schmuhl: He met Pete Buttigieg at South Bend St. Joseph HS and now manages the mayor’s extraordinary frontrunning presidential campaign.  His prior campaign portfolio prior included Buttigieg’s breakthrough 2011 mayor campaign, and, as Schmuhl told Politico, “I’ve worked for Pete, for Joe Donnelly, for Mel Hall, for Shelli Yoder. It just so happens that one of them is running for president, and honestly, if one of them wasn’t, I wouldn’t be doing this. And it just so happens the one I know the best, the one I’ve known for the longest time, is the one who is running.” He’s now running the biggest presidential campaign headquartered in Indiana since Wendell Willkie’s 1940 effort in Rushville. Schmuhl, whose only experience in the nation’s capital came with a three-year stint at the Washington Post, and Buttigieg parted ways after graduation, with the former staying at Notre Dame while the latter went to Harvard. They began running into each other when Schmuhl ran Donnelly’s final House campaign and Buttigieg was running for Indiana treasurer in 2010. Schmuhl now oversees a $70 million, 500-person campaign that has been deemed a “frontrunner” outfit. He and comm director Lis Smith, who joined Buttigieg on his unsuccessful 2018 DNC chair run, planned out this presidential race over beers at the Rusty Knot in New York’s West Village and the candidate’s South Bend home in 2018. Schmuhl told Politico that when Buttigieg drops big news on him, it usually starts out casually: “‘Hey man, I’m thinking of running for mayor.’ ‘Hey man, I’m going to Afghanistan.’ ‘Hey man, I’m gay.’ ‘Hey man, I want to be DNC chairman.’ ‘Hey man, I think I might run for president,’” Schmuhl said. “The guy knows how to keep you on edge.” Schmuhl, Buttigieg explained to Politico, “shares a lot of my instincts, but can also press or nudge me when I’m kind of veering off where I need to be. He uniquely understands both my story and my city’s story, and those two things are so important to each other and they’re so important to this campaign.”

14. Marc Short: He is the long-time aide to Vice President Mike Pence who is now the veep’s chief of staff. That’s a key gatekeeper position for Pence, who is expected to not only remain on the ticket with President Trump this year, but run for president in 2024. This makes Short a staple on the Sunday talk show circuit.

15. HHS Sec. Alex Azar and CMS Director Seema Verma:
These two Hoosiers control more than $1 trillion in annual spending, but they’ve been making news for their feud that has required the intervention of Vice President Pence and acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. Word of the feud broke out in Politico, followed by reports in the following days on Verma sticking taxpayers with the costs of stolen Ivanka Trump series jewelry (wonder how that surfaced in the media?). It’s ignited a West Wing parlor game as to which one (or, perhaps, neither) survives. Our bet is that she outlasts Azar and would be on the short list for HHS secretary if she wants that over a Silicon Valley tech job.

16. Attorney General Curtis Hill: He faces a two-year suspension of his law license as the result of sexual groping allegations from a Democratic legislator and three staffers, with the Indiana Supreme Court likely to determine his fate in the coming months. If his license is suspended, that could kick off a legal battle over whether that would be enough to force him from office. This is completely uncharted territory. Even if the Supreme Court were to reduce that two-year suspension to just weeks or days, that could give Gov. Holcomb an opening to jettison Hill, who he has called on to resign in this era of “zero tolerance” on the sexual harassment front. Even if the suspension would be measured in days, there is no mechanism in place that could restore the office to Hill. Even without such intervention, Hill faces a political floor fight for the GOP nomination next June from Zionsville attorney John Westercamp, IDOR Commissioner Adam Krupp and possibly other candidates. The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette reported that Hill has set up a satellite office in Elkhart, where he is under the scrutiny of Mrs. Hill, though his tenure at the Indiana Statehouse has been marked by conspicuous office renovation expenses.

17. Commerce Sec. Jim Schellinger: His work and worldwide travels allowed Gov. Holcomb to declare a third consecutive, record-breaking year in 2019, with the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) securing 296 commitments, investing more than $8.44 billion while creating up to 27,137 jobs with average wages of $28.60/hour – marking the highest annual records for capital investment and average wages since the IEDC was established in 2005.

18. U.S. Rep. Jim Banks:
His political trajectory – from Whitley County Republican chairman to the Indiana Senate and 3rd CD representative in Congress – indicates he has plans for bigger offices in the future, perhaps a run for governor in 2024. He’s making the most out of his role on the House Armed Services Committee to pave the road to his political future. He’s developing relationships with defense contractors and military bases all around the state. He’s also an aggressive acolyte of President Trump. He supported Trump’s diversion of funds from Indiana defense installations to fund a southern border wall. He also was one of the most smash-mouth defenders of Trump during House impeachment proceedings. His rock-solid safe northeast Indiana congressional seat gives him plenty of latitude to plot his political future.

19. Indiana Treasurer Kelly Mitchell:
With the Feb. 7 primary filing deadline still a long way off, at this writing the Indiana treasurer might have the inside lane for the GOP nomination, though conservative Rev. Micah Beckwith is expected to mount a serious challenge from the right. Mitchell was the only Republican to post six figures in the FEC third quarter. Her Statehouse constitutional base gives her a solid fundraising base. We normally don’t list CD aspirants on the Power 50, but Mitchell’s higher profile status makes her an exception.

20. Christina Hale:
We’re skeptical the “ruby red” 5th CD can go purple, but the 2016 LG nominee is the one Democrat who could make it happen. She is trying to duplicate her tireless victory over State Reo. Cindy Noe by less than 100 votes in 2012. In that purple Indianapolis district, she won reelection in 2014 with just 51.5% of the vote. Yes, Sen. Donnelly carried the 5th CD in 2018 and State Sen. J.D. Ford defeated Mike Delph, but the 5th turned a brighter red up north (Republicans carried the Kokomo Council unanimously), but Donnelly had far more exposure and name ID than Hale has. Indiana GOP Chairman Kyle Hupfer told HPI in December that all party hands are on notice that the 5th could be vulnerable. For Hale to win, she’s going to need a national wave that extends into the Hoosier State in a repudiation of President Trump. Anyone want to take that bet?

21. Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr.:
The highly ambitious four-term mayor finally has a reasonable path to a higher office with the retirement of U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky. He will have a real fight for the Democratic nomination with North Township Trustee Frank Mrvan Jr., State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, and perhaps Bill Hanna likely to make the race. If the Visclosky machine gets fully on board with one of them, that could deny McDermott his long-anticipated ascension. But as the mayor of Lake County’s largest city and as former county Democratic chairman, it might be precarious to bet against him.

22. FSSA Sec. Jennifer Sullivan and IDOH Commissioner Kris Box
: FSSA Secretary Sullivan is poised to play a huge role in 2020 as Gov. Holcomb continues to focus more on public health. Box continues to play a conspicuous public role in communicating the successes of the Holcomb Admin in the opioid and infant mortality battles.

23. INDOT Commissioner Joe McGuinness: He is running the highest profile Holcomb legacy project in Section 6 of I-69. He also oversaw a record number of 2019 INDOT projects with an expectation to continue that trajectory. One of the governor’s most trusted agency heads, the former Franklin mayor would be on a  short list should there be a senior opening in the governor’s office.

24. Chief Justice Loretta Rush: She may hold the professional and political fate of Attorney General Hill in her hands. With Myra Selby’s recommendation of a two-year license suspension, it wil likely be up to the Supreme Court to make the final determination, and the CJ will be the most influential on that front.

25. Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett:
He began his second term after his 71% reelection victory in November over State Sen. Jim Merritt. In doing so, Hogsett overcame homicide and infrastructure crises (with the help at DPW from former Democratic state chairman Dan Parker). Hogsett was rewarded with a Democratic council super majority, which should make his second term go much more smoothly in Indianapolis, which has become a Democratic bastion.  

26. Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry:
The mayor won a historic fourth consecutive term against well-funded Republican Tim Smith with 61%, or by 12,000 votes, last November. His coattails turned a 7-2 GOP council majority to 5-4 Republican. “You ain’t seen nothing yet,” Henry said at his victory celebration. Henry challenged his city to “break out of their comfort zone” by tackling issues not normally addressed at the city level, including health, energy and the arts during what he said will be his final term.

27. Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke: The three-term mayor coasted to an easy victory without a credible Democratic opponent last November, becoming only the third Evansville mayor to do so. But he will have to work with a strong Democratic council majority as his coattails did not extend down ballot. Winnecke presided over a revival of his downtown, including a sprawling medical school campus, and the inland relocation of the city’s casino. He also hosted the Indiana Republican convention in 2018. What’s next? “We have a lot of work to do still in the area of cleaning up dilapidated housing, creating more affordable housing with all of our community partners,” he told WFIE-TV. “And, we also realize the work relating to the water and sewer department, which is not always fun and exciting but certainly a necessity for our community.”

28. Democratic Chairman John Zody:
He has presided over the super minority Democratic Party for nearly seven years now. He has had to endure the Donald Trump/Mike Pence era that has upended his party’s attempts to find contemporary relevance. While Democrats held on to big city footings in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne, they still remain relegated to urban areas and the college towns. Zody hopes to find political refuge in the General Assembly in 2020. He has declared for the seat being vacated by retiring State Sen. Mark Stoops.

29. Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett: In a city with a reputation for chewing up and spitting out incumbents, Republican Mayor Bennett won a fourth term by just a few hundred votes. It came after he helped successfully steer one of the Gary casinos to his city, while getting a handle on the city’s financial crisis that came after the General Assembly passed tax caps during the Daniels administration. “I don’t think the people here are as concerned as much about the “R” or the “D” so much as they want good government,” Bennett told the Tribune-Star on election night. “At the end of the day, I think this vote shows the people appreciate what we’ve been doing.” Bennett ties Pete Chalos with four terms as mayor and trails only Ralph Tucker, who served five terms. Bennett is the longest-serving Republican.

30. U.S. Rep. Andre Carson:
With the coming retirement of U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky and Sen. Joe Donnelly’s 2018 defeat, Carson is the last Hoosier Democrat standing in this Trump/super majority GOP era. As a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, Carson had an intimate look at impeachment proceedings. His location in the middle of action gave Carson eventual vote to impeach President Trump, a grounding and gravitas beyond those cast by other members of the House. His Intelligence Committee seat also positions him to play a role in potential House opposition to any request Trump makes for war powers to take military actions in the Middle East. On the home front, Carson could give a big home-state boost to former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, if he were to endorse him. Looking ahead to November, will Carson do any work outside his district to help turn Indianapolis suburbs blue – or at least purple?

31. U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski: She has put a Republican hammer lock on the 2nd CD, a district that used to be consistently competitive. So far, it doesn’t look as if she’ll have to break a sweat to win her seat again this year, despite being one of the few GOP women in Congress during a time when President Trump is going out of his way to offend women and minorities in the electorate. Walorski, a member of the House Ways & Means Committee, is one of the few Republicans in Congress who has remained true to GOP values on free trade. She has not been shy about criticizing the excesses of Trump’s trade war with China. But she’s pushed back on trade – and on Trump’s rude behavior – without running afoul of the White House. If former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg had decided to work his way up to the White House by running for Congress first, we would have loved to have seen a Buttigieg-Walorski matchup. She would have been the favorite.

32. Drug Czar Douglas Huntsinger: 
He will assume the role of executive director for drug prevention, treatment and enforcement and chairman of the Indiana Commission to Combat Drug Abuse following the retirement of Jim McClelland. A native of Frankton,  Huntsinger is currently deputy director for drug prevention, treatment and enforcement, overseeing operational aspects of the state’s response to the drug crisis since 2017. He previously served as executive producer of the Indiana State Fair and as a policy director in the office of former Gov. Daniels. Additionally, he serves as a member of the Indiana Jail Overcrowding Task Force.

33. Purdue President Mitch Daniels
: The former two-term governor has garnered unending positive press over his seven years as Purdue president for his success in freezing tuition and introducing other innovations in West Lafayette. Yes, he fell on his face recently with his comment about an outstanding African American scholar being the “rarest of creatures.” But overall, he has had a golden touch at Purdue. As for his holding the line on tuition, since 2012, annual borrowing by Purdue undergraduates is down $57 million and the percent graduating debt-free is up 13 percentage points to 59%.  He has also brought the Purdue Polytech High Schools to downtown Indianapolis and Broad Ripple, with a potential third campus on the west side of South Bend. The Wall Street Journal has been particularly laudatory of Daniels’ tenure at the school on the banks of the Wabash River. But that publication has had a bromance with Daniels for years. The question is: Will the WSJ continue to celebrate Purdue after Daniels retires? That’s when we’ll know what kind of legacy he has left.

34. IU President IU President Michael McRobbie: As old IU celebrates its bicentennial this year, it’s worth noting President McRobbie’s legacy since he arrived on campus in 1997 as first vice president for information technology and then took the helm in 2007. He has presided over construction or renovation of more than 100 major new facilities across all campuses with a total value of around $2.5 billion and launched the largest fundraising campaign in IU’s history with a $3 billion goal.

35. USDA Under Sec. Ted McKinney: The under secretary of agriculture for trade and foreign agricultural affairs had quite a year serving under “Tariff Man” (i.e. President Trump). With the Senate poised to pass USMCA this week and Trump signing phase I of his trade deal with China next week, there must be palpable relief for the former Indiana Ag director. He told Hoosier farmers in Lafayette last summer, “USMCA drove this visit. My world is to settle some of these trade differences, and that’s why certainty on USMCA would be enormously important.” Trump is promising more trade sanctions in the coming year, and McKinney will likely spend another busy year urging calm down on the nervous farm.

36. Surgeon General Jerome Adams:
He became the 20th surgeon general in 2017, and the first Hoosier. He was part of the Hoosier tide brought into the Trump administration by Vice President Mike Pence. He has been at the forefront of the nation’s battle with opioid addiction, as well as taking a hard line against the legalization of marijuana. Dr. Adams has called for a cultural shift on addiction, urging the public and policymakers to view it as a chronic, treatable disease rather than a “moral failing.” He also has called for expanding access to evidence-based treatment and broadening the availability of naloxone.

37. Ways & Means Chairman Tim Brown
: Informed and reliable sources tell HPI that Dr. Brown intends to seek reelection this year. It caps his medical comeback after suffering severe injuries in a motorcycle accident in 2018. Should Gov. Holcomb decide to open up funding on the teacher pay front, the venerable chairman will play a key role.

38. Bill and Ann Moreau: With a widely perceived “civics” deficit in the state, the retired Barnes & Thornburg partner and his wife have established “The Indiana Citizen” website. With the support of Bob Grand, Jeanne Kelsay, Michael Goldenberg, Russell Cox and Trevor Foughty, this non-partisan, non-profit platform described as “The Crossroads of Civic Engagement” will seek to increase 2020 voter participation by 20%,  or 500,000 votes, next year. “That would move Indiana from the bottom 10 to the top 10,” Moreau told HPI. “We’ve got some big, big goals for this platform. We’re trying to create a single place where a Hoosier can get registered to vote, check out their registration, find out who represents them, and find out every bit of public information we can load there about the candidates and the issues as we head into 2020.”

39. Republican National Committeeman John Hammond III: He warned Republicans about President Trump’s fitness for office in 2015 while observing that many Americans yearned for a “strongman” in the White House, then joined the RNC in 2016. So Hammond represents a key slot in the transformation of the GOP into the “Party of Trump.” Hammond is also a key confidante of Vice President Pence.

40. Chamber President Kevin Brinegar: After years of pushing for a cigarette tax increase, raising the age of tobacco purchase has found critical mass in Congress and with Gov. Holcomb.

41. IMA President Brian Burton: We keep hearing about the contraction of manufacturing, and Burton tells HPI that part of that is because of President Trump’s tariffs. The reason that hasn’t reverberated more across the state is that there are still 70,000-plus unfilled jobs. “We still have 545,000 manufacturing jobs in the state,” Burton said, though he notes that statistic is “under counted” because it doesn’t include HR, accounting, and security personnel employed by state manufacturers. As for the coming election, Burton said the We Ask American Poll reveals that “Creating jobs and improving the economy” (22%) and “making health more affordable” (20%) are the top two issues.

42. Marty Obst: This Hoosier GOP operative continues to be a close ally of both Vice President Pence and Gov. Holcomb. He remains the first name on most people’s list for fundraising in Indiana, though that has spread to the national level. He is expected to play a substantial role in President Trump’s reelection campaign as well as setting up for whatever the future may hold for the VP.

43. U.S. Rep. Greg Pence: He’s leading his congressional life on Capitol Hill the same way he conducted his campaign – hidden away from the media, except at the recent House leadership presser on impeachment, when he stood with leadership as a beacon to the paranoid President Trump that Team Pence was fully manning the ramparts. His office touts his interactions with constituents, but it’s not clear anyone other than those in the room know what he’s up to or what he stands for. Sure, his press shop puts out statements about bills he supports and work he’s doing. He’s a member of the House Transportation Committee. But no journalist has had access to him to our knowledge. HPI interview requests languish in his press secretary’s inbox. This kind of hermetically sealed congressional service may be OK while his brother is vice president. But at some point, he has to let people know who Greg Pence is beyond a well-connected member of Congress.

44. U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon: He is another Republican member of the Hoosier congressional delegation who has turned a once competitive district into a reliable GOP seat. It’s no longer the “Bloody 8th,” it’s the “Boring 8th.” He serves on an influential House committee, Energy and Commerce, but hasn’t crafted particularly profound or signature legislation. He seems content on being a solid but low-key back bencher.

45. State Sen. Jeff Raatz and State Rep. Robert Behning: The two chamber education chairs will be dealing with two hot button issues for this election year: The ILEARN Hold Harmless legislation that began moving on the first session day, and the teacher pay issue.

46. Kurt and Kristin Luidhardt: This husband/wife team heads up the Indianapolis-based Prosper Group, which handles many of President Trump’s reelection campaign digital strategies.

47. U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky: The dean of the Hoosier congressional delegation will retire in 2021, taking with him his longtime seat on the House Appropriations Committee, where he was chair of the Defense subcommittee. His career spanned from a time when congressional earmarks made appropriators the “cardinals” of Capitol Hill to an era where earmarks have been eliminated. But his role in determining how the federal government spent its money always made Visclosky one of the most quietly powerful Hoosiers in Washington. A champion of northwest Indiana industry – e.g., steel – and infrastructure, it will be interesting to see how the prickly relationship between Visclosky and Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott evolves as McDermott runs for the open 1st CD seat.

48. U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks: She was the member of the Hoosier congressional delegation with the brightest future – until she stunned everyone by announcing her retirement last summer. The third Republican woman to win a House seat in Indiana, the former Indianapolis deputy mayor and U.S. attorney came within a single vote in the Republican Central Committee of being the party’s 2016 gubernatorial nominee. She says her political career is over. A former chair of the House Ethics Committee, she has been critical of President Trump’s divisive rhetoric. She developed a reputation as being smart and effective – one of the “adults in the room,” as she was dubbed in a recent Wall Street Journal column by Fred Barnes about Brooks’ vote against impeachment. One of just 13 GOP women in the House, Brooks would have been much higher on this list if she had decided to stay in the arena and try to increase that number. Now, she says she will be a “coach and mentor” for a new generation of Republicans.

49. Earl Goode: Gov. Holcomb’s chief of staff makes the trains run on time. He did the same task for Gov. Daniels for nearly five years. The question is always, “How long will he stay?” And who will take his place?

50. Joe Donnelly: You can bet that U.S. Sen. Todd Young is keeping tabs on this former Democratic senator. Young is up for reelection in 2022 and Donnelly would pose the best chance for Hoosier Democrats to reclaim the Senate seat they lost in 2018. Donnelly has been mum on his political future beyond expressing no interest in the 2020 gubernatorial race. He joined the Washington law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld as a partner last year. He remains as the most potentially potent Democrat in Indiana.