By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS  – Kyle Hupfer continues find himself in the thick of pandemic era politics. The day before this Howey Politics Indiana Interview, the state Republican chairman announced the Indiana Republican Convention would move to a virtual format on June 18.

As Gov. Eric Holcomb’s campaign manager, he described the nexus of a sitting governor seeking reelection in the midst of a pandemic. And he observed the controversy surrounding the Indiana Supreme Court suspension of Attorney General Curtis Hill and the decision facing GOP delegates next month.

“The delegates are going to be met with a tough choice,” Hupfer noted. “He has been an attorney general who has built relationships. They like that aspect. But they are also being faced with the reality that this is a now extremely flawed candidate who will have difficulty winning an election in November.”

And he said that the 15-person 5th CD primary has become a tossup race, where the eventual nominee could win with “15 or 16% of the vote,” adding, “I was the 5th District chairman and I don’t have a good sense where that race is.”

As for Gov. Holcomb’s stewardship of the coronavirus that has killed 1,600 Hoosiers and thrust double digit unemployment on a state that had been operating on all cylinders in February, Hupfer said that incumbent governors of both parties will probably benefit politically. “The average citizen doesn’t often get to see their governor lead. They know they’re leading, but they don’t often get to see it,” Hupfer explained.

He recalled flooding that prompted Gov. Mitch Daniels to cancel a trade mission to tend to that crisis. “He got a big boost,” said Hupfer, who served as Daniels Department of Natural Resources Commissioner. In Holcomb’s case, “People don’t normally get to see their elected officials on a daily basis lead, and people like leadership.”

As for what’s ahead for the 2020 election, for Gov. Holcomb it will mean a campaign that is not normal in any sense, following his 2016 effort that he likened to “building an airplane while it’s flying.” Holcomb had been Gov. Mike Pence’s lieutenant governor. Pence subsequently resigned his nomination to run and win the vice presidency on Donald Trump’s ticket. Holcomb won a three-ballot Republican Central Committee caucus just three months before the election, then crested the Trump wave to upset Democrat John Gregg.

“A couple of weeks after this pandemic started, I was getting bombarded with calls,” Hupfer told HPI. “I used the line ‘The easy decisions were made about three days ago. They are all hard now. There are no easy decisions. So now every decision is between two bad things. There just aren’t good options left.’ It’s been that way through the whole thing.”

Here is the HPI Interview  with Chairman Hupfer:

HPI: Describe how the virtual convention will work.

Hupfer: The state committee worked over the last eight weeks plus and came up with an alternative once everything started to cancel, when a basketball team was pulled off the floor at the Big East tournament in March. We thought the convention is a long way out, but let’s start thinking about what we would have to do if we can’t hold it in person. With the governor’s Back on Track Plan, we’re just not going to be in a place where we can put 2,000 folks in one location. We’ve got a lot of delegates in the age brackets that need extra protection. There are other folks that won’t be comfortable coming into that big of a crowd so soon. We’ll still have a credentials committee which will verify who the elected delegates are, as well as vacancies the county chairs make. We are contracting with a third party that will directly mail ballots to all delegates, and we’ve contracted with an accounting firm to receive ballots over the course of a couple week period. They will all be back by July 9. The accounting firm will bring them into a designated counting location on July 10. Candidates will be able to have watchers in the room as we count the ballots. We’ll count those mailed in by the delegates that day.

HPI: Will the convention be online?

Hupfer: No. We went out about four weeks ago with WISH-TV and struck a deal with them where we actually do a set of in-studio speeches by the governor, the lieutenant governor and candidates. That will happen in studio on June 18 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. That will be broadcast live on their statewide news network, and it will also be livestreamed on the WISH-TV website, and then we’ll be able to utilize that footage elsewhere. We’ll blast it out via email to our entire list and make sure if delegates want to watch it, put it up on social media. It will the first time our convention has ever been televised. Our delegates will be able to hear those messages, as well as anyone who wants to tune into the broadcast.

HPI: I don’t think anyone ever considered a virtual convention until this pandemic. What were the pros and cons about going that route that the central committee had to weigh? Obviously the safety of delegates was one thing. What else was under consideration?

Hupfer: At one point we figured we were just going to be prohibited from doing it. If we could do it legally, if the time was such that we could put 2,000 people into the convention center, we would certainly do it. More of the waiting surrounded how do we find a way for our delegates to make these selections? If we can’t do it in person, what is the most robust and trustworthy way to do that?  We looked at a lot of different options, like smartphones, digital and the one we kept coming back to in the time frame we were dealing with was mailed ballots.  We felt pretty confident how that mechanism works. We can feel it, touch it. You know the Iowa Caucuses on the Democratic side made everyone think that doing this the first time on the digital side made everyone a little nervous. Our delegates will be most comfortable with a paper ballot in hand. So a lot of discussions were about all the alternative ways we could do this. There were a lot of great ideas, and then we had to overlay the virus and what limitations put in place, not just with gatherings, but also … as we were trying to put this thing together, there were a lot of places that were just closed down.

HPI:
Like hotels and restaurants.

Hupfer: And getting any sort of response. We had to think with that lens as well.

HPI: What about the Republican National Convention? President Trump appears to be full steam ahead.

Hupfer: It’s the week of Aug. 24. That’s a long way away. We’ll have to see where the state of North Carolina is in their approach to opening their economy and their activities. Everything we’re hearing from the RNC is they are full steam ahead for an in-person convention. There is an active team in North Carolina working on that every day.

HPI: There’s a Democratic governor of North Carolina and a Democratic mayor of Charlotte who may not sanction that kind of mega-gathering from a public health standpoint.

Hupfer: I can’t  believe  a decision would be made other than these things will either be conducted or they won’t. I really don’t think they wouldn’t open up because of the convention. Maybe I’m an optimist or look at other people’s better nature. I just don’t think that’s going to play into it. Every governor wants to get their area back open if it’s safe and healthy to do so.

HPI: I want to pivot to what kind of permanent changes there might be due to the pandemic. What do you think are the lasting changes that may reshape politics in the future?

Hupfer:
I think it’s too early to tell on politics. As we sit here today, we’ve really minimized our activity over the past two months. I haven’t had staff in the office, haven’t been able to go door-to-door, haven’t been able to have any fundraisers. We’ve kept all our staff on. We’ve had a lot of success making phone calls to people. They’ve been very receptive. A lot of people are just happy to hear from someone and happy to have the conversation. We’ve encouraged our staff to call voters across the state and have conversations with them. As we sit here today, we’re going to be in a period where this month and maybe in June, things are going to be different. In the long-term, in August, September and October we’re looking for things to return to normal. Labor Day, hopefully there are going to be some parades. We can have our staff go back to door-to-door. They’re going to look different. They’re going to have their masks on and step away from the door to make sure they’re talking to folks from a safe distance. I think the campaigns will look like they have historically by the time we get to September and October, if things continue to go well. It’s dependent on that. I think you’ll see a lot more contingency planning. Folks weren’t sitting in state committee six months ago thinking, “What if we can’t have a convention in person?” That was just taken for granted. My guess is there will be some contingency planning, particularly with gatherings of large groups of people.

HPI: What about fundraising?

Hupfer:
We haven’t really done any. We’ve received some checks from people wanting to be supportive. We haven’t been making asks. We’ll start doing that again sometime this month. I’m not sure when the governor will start actively fundraising, but it won’t be during the month of May. It will be June at the earliest. We’ll start to reach out as a staff looking for donors. We’ve missed three months of fundraising at a minimum. I feel good about the work we have done leading up to this year. There’s no way to predict this. We’ve worked hard over the four years to raise money consistently to put ourselves into this campaign. We’re pretty confident that once we get back to fundraising, we’ll have success at it. You may not at all this year see a reception or just wading through, talking with each other and mingling. There will be social distancing and having masks for the foreseeable future.

HPI: What kind of contingencies is the Holcomb campaign making for the fall?

Hupfer:
I haven’t got that far yet. Things have been changing so rapidly it’s hard to project out to October. We think things will be different as far as safety, distancing and precaution. We’ll see what those events are when we get to them. As things continue to progress in this positive manner we’ll have bigger events, still doing them in a safe manner.

HPI:
Are Zoom and Go to Meeting going to outlast this pandemic?

Hupfer: Oh yeah. Outside of day-to-day campaigning, you just look out into the world and I think we won’t know for several years how the ripple effect from the pandemic will change the world. People are realizing that “I can conduct a business and live my life virtually, so I don’t need to be in an office every day. I don’t need to do all these things in person. Zoom gives me in a meeting a lot of the personal interaction needed to get things done.” Outside of politics there will be a lot of long-term advantages in all of this.

HPI:
What has been your advice to 5th CD candidates who found the campaign ground literally shifting beneath them these past two months? Have any of them reached out to you for advice?

Hupfer:  We’ve had some folks reach out and ask, “What are you guys doing in these various categories, like fundraising, or campaigning door-to-door?” We haven’t really put out any guidance. We’re just following what we observe as the rules from the governor or the CDC.  They have been running much different campaigns. I know there was a 5th District forum that was all digital. It’s just a lot harder for all these candidates to interact with voters, especially new candidates … especially in something as big as a congressional district. That’s been a real hindrance to those who need to increase their name ID. It’s a lot harder to create a personal connection if you can’t meet one-on-one or in small groups. I think they’re all out working hard. We are fully prepared for a district like the 5th once we have a winner, to engage in a heavy way with them to ensure we get them across the finish line in November. It makes it a tossup as to what’s going to happen.


HPI: I’m going to leave that race in tossup. As for the Curtis Hill suspension by the Supreme Court yesterday, what are your thoughts this morning?

Hupfer: Curtis, in doing the job of attorney general, has had some good results. He’s been a conservative, he’s fought for lives and to protect the 2nd Amendment. He has gone around the state and built a lot of personal relationships. There are many delegates who have personal relationships with him who are going to have to make a decision when they get to the convention. They now understand that the Supreme Court has held a hearing, made a determination that his actions on the four victims constituted battery which has been alleged from the beginning. The delegates are going to be met with a tough choice. He has been an attorney general who has built relationships. They like that aspect. But they are also being faced with the reality that he is a now an extremely flawed candidate who will have difficulty winning an election in November. The mail pieces will write  themselves. I have faith. That’s why we have this system of delegates. They are charged with picking the candidate giving us the best chance to win in November, to hold on to that office, and to ensure the protections that office offers remains in conservative hands. I think they will come to the conclusion that the office is bigger than any one person.

HPI:
What do you think turnout is going to be like in the June 2 primary?

Hupfer: The new absentee ballots will have some impact. A  bigger impact will be the length of time extended. That’s been running a month and a half already. We’ll go another few weeks. When you look at other Election Day turnout in other primaries around the virus, it’s fairly robust. I think you will see normal-plus turnout in the primary. Maybe a little bit higher.

HPI: What can you say about extending the no ask absentee ballot to the November election? Are those discussions happening with Secretary of State Lawson and the Election Commission?

Hupfer: No discussions about this fall have happened. All the focus has been on the primary. The secretary’s office has done a great job of purchasing and collecting PPE and the National Guard has been getting that out to the counties for the primary. It was just left as we’ll see what the circumstances are as we get closer to the general election as to what modifications need to be made. It’s too early to be looking at that today.

HPI: What kind of time frame will be needed to make that call before the November election? Two months out?

Hupfer: It will be difficult to say. You want to be looking at it around that time we did for the primary.