By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS  – If there was a poster boy for gubernatorial futility prior to 2020, it would be Republican Linley Pearson in 1992.

Pearson easily won the Republican nomination, but had a GOP convention meltdown over who the attorney general nominee would be. In the general election, Pearson faced popular Gov. Evan Bayh who was perceived as destined for the national ticket. Bayh ended up walloping Pearson by 559,618 votes, or by a 25% plurality landslide. In the television age of Indiana politics, it stands as historic relief between the two major parties.

But in Bayh’s landslide win, the yield down ballot was limited, with Democrats picking up just five General Assembly seats.

The surreal, pandemic-stricken 2020 election cycle stands to rewrite the landslide annals. A SurveyUSA Poll released Wednesday has Holcomb with a 55-35% lead over Democrat Woody Myers with 10% for Libertarian Donald Rainwater. In the BK Strategies Poll released by Indiana Republicans last week, Holcomb had a gaping 60% to 21% lead over Myers, with Rainwater polling at 6%. 

Next Tuesday, Holcomb, Myers and Rainwater participate in the statewide Indiana Debate Commission event, presenting an extremely narrow path for the Democrat and Libertarian nominees to get into a more competitive posture.

If that margin holds in that neighborhood – and there is little indication that Holcomb is facing any serious erosion despite President Trump’s meltdown and a resurging pandemic – it would be an epic rout, eclipsing Doc Bowen’s 14% plurality over Secretary of State Larry Conrad in 1976, Gov. Mitch Daniels’ emphatic 18% reelection plurality over Democrat Jill Long Thompson in 2008, and Evan Bayh’s historic rebuke of Pearson in 1992.

Bayh’s shellacking of Pearson is even more impressive when you consider that Vice President Dan Quayle was running on the losing ticket with President George H.W. Bush. Bayh’s breakthrough victory over the 20-year Republican dynasty with Quayle on the ticket in 1988 is equally impressive.

And it takes away an excuse for Myers’ anemic campaign. Some might say that Vice President Mike Pence’s station on President Trump’s ticket, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, made it impossible for Myers to win, crimping his fundraising despite his promising resume. Myers reported a mere $14,000 cash on hand on his 2019 year-ending report, despite kicking off his campaign the previous summer, and failed to find much traction in the three and a half months before Gov. Holcomb imposed the lockdown in mid-March. On his mid-year report, Myers had less than $73,000 cash on hand. Christina Hale’s 5th CD campaign has raised $3 million, showing that the pandemic can be an opportunity for some.

How bad is the Myers campaign? He is being out-raised by Libertarian nominee Donald Rainwater, who landed a $50,000 donation from William Perkins III of Houston, on top of the $100,000 he received from the same source on Sept. 25. The Rainwater campaign announced Wednesday that it has raised more than $65,000 from over 200 individual donors. Myers reported just under $15,000 in large donations over the past two weeks.

The Trump/Pence ticket maintained its 10-point advantage in the CBS Battleground Tracker released over the weekend, 54%-44% and SurveyUSA had Trump up 49-42%. 

Had the Myers campaign displayed even a modicum of fiscal prowess, it might have put in motion the ticket-splitting that down-ballot Democrats like Hale and a handful of General Assembly candidates need to take advantage of the anti-Trump blue wave developing nationally. Myers’ impotency has sent an unmistakable message to down-ballot Democrats: You’re on your own. 

Joe Biden’s presidential campaign’s calculus isn’t counting on Indiana, meaning the national party will not invest here.

In all fairness to Myers, the notion of gubernatorial campaign coattails is more myth than fact. Congressional and General Assembly realignments tend to come in mid-term elections. In 1970, House Republicans saw their 73 seats shrink to 54. In the Watergate election of 1974, a 73-seat GOP House majority reverted to a 56-seat Democratic majority. Democrats regained the House in 1998, and again in 2006 when they not only regained the House majority, but picked up three congressional seats. In 2010, it was Republicans who regained the House majority with a 12-seat pickup, forging a 60-40 majority that has since evolved into two straight cycles of super majority rule.

The coattail kings would be Gov. Edgar Whitcomb, whose 1968 victory brought in 14 new Senate Republicans and seven in the Indiana House, and Doc Bowen’s breakthrough 1972 victory ushered in 19 new House Republicans. Those two elections helped forge the 20-year GOP dynasty.

When Evan Bayh broke that dynasty in 1988, his coattails were quite modest, bringing along four new Democratic Senate seats and two in the House that forged the historic 50/50 split. During his massive 1992 reelection victory, his coattails notched just five new Democratic seats (three in the House and two in the Senate).

Gov. Frank O’Bannon’s 1996 upset of Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith resulted in six new House Democrats and a second 50/50 split.

Gov. Mitch Daniels, the powerful Republican bookend to Democrat Bayh, ended the 16-year Democratic dynasty with a very modest four new Republican General Assembly seats, though the party retook the House with a three-seat pickup. In the 2006 mid-terms, Democrats retook control 51-49. In his 18% reelection win, Daniels did not usher in any new Senate seats and Democrats actually picked up a House seat as Barack Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state.

Daniels and House Minority Leader Brian Bosma engineered the 2010 mid-term House takeover for the GOP, and drew the new maps in 2011 that have put Indiana on course to be essentially a one-party state.

The new maps had more to do with the nine-seat GOP pickup in 2012 than Gov. Mike Pence did. Pence became the first modern governor unable to crack the 50% barrier in his defeat of Democrat John Gregg with less than a 3% plurality.

Poll has Trump, Holcomb, Rokita leading

Three Republicans hold leads of varying degrees in their campaigns for the support of Indiana voters, a new poll of several high-profile contests shows (WPTA-TV). The SurveyUSA poll crowdsourced on GoFundMe by Andrew Ellison a self-described “lifelong Democrat,” was conducted from Oct. 8 through Oct. 13 and included 757 registered voters, 527 of whom were determined to be “likely” to cast a ballot. In the race for president, Donald Trump leads his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, by a 49-42% margin, 3% for “other” and 6% undecided. The poll did not name the Libertarian nominee, Jo Jorgensen, but allowed participants to answer that they would vote for another candidate. The results show strength for Biden in Indianapolis, but Trump leading in the broader regions of the state and among those who say the economy is their top concern and those who consider themselves “strongly pro-life.” The poll puts Holcomb’s support at 55%, followed by Dr. Woody Myers at 25% and Libertarian Donald Rainwater at 10%. Two-thirds of those surveyed said they approve of the way Holcomb has governed. In the race to fill the state’s Attorney General seat, Republican Todd Rokita leads Democrat Jonathan Weinzapfel by a 48-35% margin.

The ‘contested race’ for governor

NWI Times reporter Dan Carden captured the prevailing sentiments in the gubernatorial race: “If you don’t know there is a contested race for Indiana governor on the general election ballot, you’re likely not alone. As usual, the presidential campaign is overshadowing the contest for Indiana’s chief executive, and coupled with COVID-19 all but eliminating traditional campaign activities this year, most Hoosiers know little about the men challenging Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb’s reelection bid. That has Holcomb in the catbird seat, able to tout both his speedy reopening of Indiana amid the coronavirus pandemic and his prepandemic economic growth initiatives that he promises soon will pay off – without having to even acknowledge his opponents, let alone spend a dime of his more than $8 million campaign war chest against them.”

Rainwater cites tax, COVID for getting in

Navy veteran Donald Rainwater began to turn away from the Republican Party four years ago when state lawmakers considered raising taxes on cigarettes (Sikich, IndyStar).  Rainwater thought the GOP super majorities should stand for limited government. The idea to charge $1 per pack ultimately failed, but Rainwater had had enough of a GOP he thought was increasingly expanding government. He turned to the Libertarian Party and began the first of four runs for office.  “I decided it was time for me to stop being aggravated and to get up and do something,” Rainwater said. “I felt like the Libertarian Party most closely mirrored the majority of my principles.”  

Myers sees a ‘different Indiana’

Dr. Woody Myers, a former state health commissioner and the Democratic nominee for governor, sees a different Indiana, an Indiana where too many Hoosiers, including women and minorities, aren’t sharing in the largess envisioned by Holcomb (Carden, NWI Times). “Before COVID-19, Hoosier women were already ranked 49th in the nation when it came to economic status, with women making only 75 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts,” Myers said. “As governor, I will do much more to give Hoosier women and their families long-term solutions to address the disparities they face every day. There’s been a lot of talk and zero action at the Statehouse when it comes to actually fixing the disparities.”

Holcomb’s new ad

Holcomb’s reelection campaign launched its latest statewide television ad, the sixth of his campaign. The new ad, titled “Momentum,” features a Hoosier mother and small business owner from Boone County. “Hoosiers across the state are feeling the impact of Gov. Holcomb’s leadership,” said Kyle Hupfer, campaign manager for Gov. Holcomb’s reelection. “He’s tackling our state’s biggest challenges, and Indiana’s not just competing – we’re winning. We must keep that momentum going for four more years.”

NWI Times endorses Holcomb

The NWI Times has endorsed Holcomb: “Incumbent Gov. Eric Holcomb continues to ensure projects and priorities for Northwest Indiana remain at the top of his agenda. Holcomb has demonstrated a keen understanding of how our Region’s economic fortunes feed the state as a whole. His steadfast support for commuter rail expansion, one of the biggest economic development plans in recent memory, shows that he understands what will move the Region’s economic needle, bolster our sense of place and keep our state connected with the vital nearby economy of Chicago. Holcomb deserves another term to see this and so many other initiatives through.” Horse Race Status: Safe Holcomb.