Attorney General Curtis Hill (top left) faces three Republican convention challengers, including Decatur County Prosecutor Nate Harter, former congressman Todd Rokita and Zionsville attorney John Westercamp.
Attorney General Curtis Hill (top left) faces three Republican convention challengers, including Decatur County Prosecutor Nate Harter, former congressman Todd Rokita and Zionsville attorney John Westercamp.

INDIANAPOLIS — On Thursday Attorney General Curtis Hill and three challengers will be making virtual video presentations to Indiana Republican Convention delegates. By July 10, the nomination will be known and its impact will likely reverberate over the next four years and over two election cycles.

For Hill, winning a second nomination after Gov. Eric Holcomb, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, legislative leaders from both parties and U.S. Sen. Mike Braun called for him to resign two years ago following sexual harassment allegations, will put him on a path toward reelection and, perhaps, the open 2024 gubernatorial nomination. With Democrats winning an anemic 11% of statewide races over the past decade, this gives the GOP nomination added weight.

Hill is being challenged by former congressman and secretary of state Todd Rokita, Decatur County Prosecutor Nate Harter, and Zionsville attorney John Westercamp. A number of Republicans Howey Politics Indiana  has talked to believe that if Hill doesn’t win with 50% plus one delegate on the first ballot, a shakeup will be likely. Hill maintains that outside of Indianapolis, his support remains robust.

Delegates will receive ballots around June 22 and can list between one and four candidates, designating first, second, etc. choices. The balloting is being sent to delegates by ES&S and once completed, will be sent to the accounting firm Katz Sapper & Miller, which must receive them by mail no later than 5 p.m. July 9. Indiana Republican Party officials, with candidate watchers on hand, will then count and announce the nomination on July 10.

The four candidates will make their video appeals to delegates at 5:30 p.m. June 18 on WISH-TV and other Indiana affiliates.

Hill channels Kavanaugh

Attorney General Hill believes that his three-plus years in the office and the fact that he was cleared of criminal charges by a special prosecutor have him poised for a second term. Speaking on Rob Kendall’s WIBC radio show last week, Hill made connections between his case and allegations made against President Trump and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

“People say I’m damaged goods and can’t win the November election,” Hill told Kendall. “President Trump was investigated by a special prosecutor and cleared, and so was I. And yet so many people are going to vote for President Trump despite the fact he was impeached. How many of those people are going to vote for President Trump and then turn around and split their ticket for a candidate who’s for big government, pro-abortion, and a soft-on-crime liberal. It’s not going to happen.”

He said the double standard extends to sexual harassment allegations that surfaced during Justice Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearing. “Many Indiana Republicans were supportive” of Kavanaugh, Hill said. “Many of those people took a different approach under my circumstances. It’s a small number of people, not the Republican Party. Our support is off the charts. I’m very pleased we have the support.”

He depicted his GOP detractors as the “so-called Indianapolis crowd that weren’t necessarily interested in an independent-minded conservative from northern Indiana. There are some who want the attorney general to be at their beck and call.” He added that “it is an interesting can of worms the state party has opened up.”

Sullivan County Republican Chairman Bill Springer, one of two original Donald Trump Republican National Convention delegates in 2016, explained, “I support Curtis Hill for attorney general because he cares about us at the local level. When a local Sullivan County officeholder needed help over the 4th of July weekend, Curtis Hill was available and took care of the problem. He regularly calls county chairmen and asks us how we are getting along. This is unique in today’s Indiana Republican Party.”

Kendall portrayed Gov. Eric Holcomb as a “hypocrite” who perceived Hill as a potential 2020 primary threat. “It’s been an interesting episode in fairness,” Hill responded, without mentioning the governor. “We have been very pleased that we have support across the state. I received 80,000 more votes than President Trump. People see my authenticity of service and that translates into popularity. It does send a message. It’s not without hypocrisy because it doesn’t apply evenly. There are always examples that are out there of people who may be connected or friends of an individual who are treated one way, and people who are not treated another way.”

“One reason people like me is I do what I say I’m going to do,” Hill said. “I’ve done more to protect the unborn than anybody.” He cited the 2,000-plus Hoosier fetal remains found on the Illinois property of the late Dr. Ulrich Klopfer. “We’ve taken more responsibility to protect the unborn,” he said, adding that he had “no statutory authority” in the case. “We went to Illinois, brought them back for a dignified burial. That’s called leadership. We need to be the kind of people, the kind of party to get things done.”

As for the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, Hill said, “There’s a problem that’s moving toward African-American males and we need to address it. There is a problem in this country.” Hill added, “We have to understand the distinction between protesters and anarchists. I think the concern is we’re not mixing up those bags. We have to protect life and property rights. We’ve seen some lapses and I think that’s out of fear. We need to develop empathy on both sides. It’s important we understand the angst in the black community. The history in America has been very difficult.”

Hill reminded WIBC listeners that he’s undefeated in politics, winning four terms as Elkhart County prosecutor and the GOP nomination, and led the ticket in 2016. “I’ve never lost a campaign,” he said. “Part of that process is staying above the fray. These distractions are unfortunate, but it hasn’t kept me from doing my job. I’m tough. I can take a punch. With what’s going on now, with the riots, and strife, you want solid leadership. You don’t want hand-wringing. Folks are craving leadership.

“I’m not running against anybody,” Hill said. “The state party folks can offer anybody they want. My focus has been on my record. I don’t have to engage in rhetoric in what I’ll do if I’m elected. I’ve been elected and I’ve done the job. Let them bring who they want to bring. My ability to win has not been lessened one iota.”

Rokita on Hill, Kavanaugh

Todd Rokita also drew distinctions between the allegations made against Hill and Kavanaugh. “Brett Kavanaugh was attacked by the liberal left because he was being picked by President Trump and because he followed conservative values,” Rokita said in a Facebook post. “What we have learned since is that some of the accusers of Brett Kavanaugh have recanted their accusations. This is a far cry from the Curtis Hill incident that earned him a 30-day law license suspension, unanimously, from the Indiana Supreme Court, which are all Republicans, appointed by three different governors. The Brett Kavanaugh allegations were unfounded and the allegations against Curtis Hill were found convincingly criminal battery.”

Rokita added, “Curtis Hill used terrible judgment in his actions on the night in question and the four victims have stood fast in their allegations. There were also two unrelated victims of other incidents that came forward to show a pattern of actions by Hill. Republicans need to not only look at who they are nominating for attorney general, but also need to realize the ramifications of what having a damaged candidate at this high-level office can do up and down the ticket in Indiana. Holding Curtis Hill accountable in the election can help conservative Hoosiers keep more than just the AG office, but also any other tightly contested race.”

Rokita, who won a 2002 GOP convention floor fight for secretary of state, added that liberal billionaire George Soros is likely to target the Indiana AG race. “Soros and those alike look for weak, wounded candidates,” Rokita said. “Enter Curtis Hill, and pump money into that state, enter Indiana. Look up and down this fall’s ticket and realize what casting a delegate vote for Hill could do to our conservative state. Don’t cast your vote in the moment on emotion! Indiana delegates need to vote with a clear mind for Hoosier futures.”

The stakes are also high for Rokita. Like Hill, if nominated and elected, he will almost certainly seek the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2024. Rokita finished a distant third to Lt. Gov. Holcomb and U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks in the July 2016 Indiana Central Committee caucus to replace Gov. Mike Pence on the ticket after Donald Trump chose Pence for the national ticket.

Harter promises legal defense

Prosecutor Nate Harter made a delegate pitch on Facebook. “It’s really important that we return a conservative attorney general office this fall,” Harter said, who is backed by Clark County Sheriff Jamey Noel, who is Gov. Holcomb’s campaign chairman. “We’ve seen in other states where the Democratic attorney general has simply decided not to defend the law passed by the elected representatives of the people of their states. In California, for example, a Democratic attorney general refused to defend the will of the people as passed by a referendum.

“My job will be to work to partner with our legislators and our governor to defend the laws they pass as representatives of the people,” Harter continued. “That’s why it is critical in these coming years with redistricting and a budget year that we have a Republican attorney general who will defend those values. Now more than ever, Americans depend on our 2nd Amendment rights to defend themselves, their families, and their homes. As attorney general, I’ll fight to defend the natural right of all citizens to own and carry firearms. As the state’s chief law enforcement officer, we need a tested litigator with courtroom experience in the attorney general’s office. I’m 100% pro-life, and I’ll fight to defend that right as attorney general.”

Westercamp’s pitch

Westercamp, who was the first Republican to challenge Hill, described himself on Facebook as “an experienced Indiana attorney who advocates for job creators and Hoosier families.” He listed “Life, freedom of speech and the right to bear arms” as freedoms he would defend if elected. “I’ll fight against government overreach, promote government transparency and I’ll make sure the office is prepared to take on legal battles the state faces. And I will faithfully execute the laws of the land.” 

Horse Race status

HPI expects Lake and Marion county delegations to back someone other than Hill, though sources tell us that a number of attorney general office employees filed as delegates in the Marion County and neighoring delegations. Gov. Holcomb isn’t overtly backing a candidate, but the fact that his reelection campaign Chairman Jamey Noel is backing Harter implies that this is an alternative.

But this is not the Doc Bowen era, where the governor greeting delegates outside his preferred candidate’s suite was tantamount to extending his imprimatur. And Holcomb was on Gov. Mitch Daniels’ team when 2008 convention delegates rebuked his endorsement of Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas, resulting in a floor win by Greg Zoeller.

Our sense is that beyond the Indianapolis beltway, Hill has not lost a great deal of support. The fact that social conservatives still backed President Trump after the “Access Hollywood” audio in 2016 and the 24 women who have accused him of sexual harassment and/or assault is indicative that even in the #Metoo era, a credible sexually oriented allegation isn’t a disqualifying situation within the Republican Party. That Hill will tell delegates that he traveled to Washington to defend President Trump during the impeachment proceedings will also play in Hill’s favor. 

Having said all that, the fact that this is a “virtual convention” with the scheming occurring via phone calls, texts and emails lends a bit of a mysterious dynamic to this unprecedented situation. There could still be a surprise, but at this writing, the incumbent is still the man to beat. HPI Convention Horse Race Status: Leans Hill.