By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS – This has been Diego Morales’s hell week. After media reports began questioning the Republican secretary of state nominee military record that reveals that Morales didn’t complete his eight-year commitment and was discharged at the rank of private, his campaign told the Capital Chronicle, “As to the validity and what is typical and not typical of the forms you can contact the United States Army and the Indiana National Guard.” 

Why does this matter? Because Morales has made his military service a key component of his campaign and by contrast, Democrat nominee Destiny Wells is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard and Libertarian Jeff Maurer currently serves in the Indiana Air National Guard in Terre Haute. 

On Tuesday, Importantville’s Adam Wren convinced Morales to talk. “Why did you enlist in the military even before you were a citizen?” 

Morales responded, “I am a legal immigrant who came to America legally, respecting the rule of law. My family and I had the opportunity to come to America, to come to Indiana, and we settled down by the Ohio River in Clark County. I was a senior in high school. I knew zero English. I had no friends. I had nothing. I had to start from scratch. But I had Hoosiers welcome me with open arms. When I went to my high school, Silver Creek High School in Sellersburg, everyone was kind and nice. And they just welcomed me with open arms. And I said, Wow, someday I would like to give back to this community that has already given me [a welcome]. Went to college. Worked two jobs to pay for my education. Hoosiers were kind to me. And I said I think it is time for me to show my love and gratitude to Indiana and America. And I said, In what ways? I think one of the honorable ways is to give back to the military. So with a green card in my wallet, I enlisted in the U.S. military, simply to give back and show my love and gratitude to America.”

Wren then observed that Morales’ military record had come under fire. He asked Military.com reporter Steve Beynon about Morales’s DD-214 and NGB-22 forms. Beynon said, “It’s safe to say he had an unremarkable career and didn’t take his time in the National Guard seriously. His military experience, based on his record, is as basic as it gets. This was a part-time soldier with no combat deployments, never held a leadership role, and never attended any prestigious Army training.” Your response?

Morales: “I’m happy to tell you that I am very proud of my service in the military. As I said, with the green card in my wallet, I tried to give back to this great country that has given me everything. I’m grateful for all my fellow military brothers and sisters who have given back to our country.”

The IndyStar’s Briggs was unimpressed: “I don’t know how to interpret that any way other than to conclude Morales either did not leave the military on his own terms or he quit and he’d rather not say that. What are the alternative explanations? However you want to read it, the non-answer is a stunning sidestep for someone who has defined his public persona and political campaign around the narrative of being a ‘U.S. Army veteran’ who was ‘willing to put his life on the line to protect his country.’”

But Morales’ military record wasn’t all that came to light. Indiana Public Media reported that Morales will not debate Wells and Maurer, with his campaign saying his focus is on “traveling to all 92 Indiana counties.” Maurer said Morales is hiding. “If your ideas are so bad that you can’t even stand in front of a crowd of people, of your neighbors, to defend them, then something’s wrong. You need better ideas,” Maurer said. 

As for “bad ideas,” Morales backtracked on his call to reduce early voting from 28 to 14 days, telling Fox59  that the current system is “working.”

Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Wells was endorsed by the VoteVets PAC, which represents more than 1.5 million veterans and military families, supports veterans running for office around the country. “In these turbulent political times, our veterans, communities and country need leaders like Destiny Wells, who will continue to serve the nation and put the country first.” said Jon Soltz, chairman of the VoteVets PAC.

Wells said, “I am honored to be given VoteVets’ endorsement. As a military intelligence officer, I have seen first hand the state of democracy across the world and I am proud to have VoteVets’ support as I continue to defend access to democracy in the Indiana Secretary of State’s office.”  Horse Race Status: Tossup.

U.S. Senate

Star profiles McDermott ‘Trump’ campaign

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., wasn’t going to let a chain barrier stop him from getting to a sign post marking the Illinois-Indiana border during a tour he was giving of the city of roughly 77,000 along Lake Michigan (Lange, IndyStar). Before any of his passengers could utter a word, he threw his bright, blue-striped 2010 Mustang Shelby GT500 into reverse and went off road near the property of a data center he had lured to the city at the site of a dirty coal plant along the coast. The car, one of two Mustangs he and his wife bought after he lost his 2020 1st Congressional District election, bounced and dipped through the uneven tall grass, every bump noticeable in the sports car. “That’s one of the things about being mayor,” said McDermott. “You can sort of do things other people can’t.” McDermott, 53, is unpredictable, a bit of a wildcard who seems to do quite frankly whatever he feels like doing. He does things maybe he shouldn’t as mayor. He cusses on his biweekly podcast. He makes off-color jokes. He smoked marijuana in a campaign ad. Don’t tell McDermott he’s the underdog. “I think I’m going to win,” McDermott told IndyStar, listing off his support for legalized marijuana and abortion rights as two of the primary reasons. “How many people thought Donald Trump was going to win the president in 2016?” Horse Race Status: Safe Young.

Congress

1st CD: State Police Alliance endorses Green

The Indiana State Police Alliance endorsed Jennifer-Ruth Green. “On behalf of over 2,000 active and retired Indiana State Troopers, Motor Carrier Inspectors, and Capitol Police Officers, the ISPA is pleased to endorse Jennifer-Ruth Green. Jennifer-Ruth swiftly established an early rapport with our organization and continues to include our leadership in various opportunities of public discussion. She is a leader who will provide a fresh perspective in Washington,” said Cory Martin, executive director at Indiana State Police Alliance.

Green responding to U.S. Frank Mrvan’s vote “against lower natural gas prices as winter approaches”: “Whether it’s soaring food prices, record-high gas prices, or jacking electricity and heating bills through the roof, Congressman Frank Mrvan has dutifully supported the Biden-Pelosi agenda 100% of the time at the expense of working-class Hoosiers,” said Kevin Hansberger, Green’s communications director. “Yesterday, Mrvan had a chance to undo new natural gas taxes he voted for with the fraudulently named Inflation Reduction Act. Instead, Mrvan doubled down on his attacks on working-class Hoosiers and seniors living on a fixed income.” Horse Race Status: Leans Mrvan.

2nd CD: Yakym up on TV

The Yakym for Indiana 2nd CD campaign released their first television ad titled, “Jackie.”  The ad will be seen on both broadcast and cable across Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District. The 30-second ad opens with Rudy Yakym, Republican candidate for Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District, introducing himself direct to the camera as someone who worked for the late Congresswoman Jackie Walorski for years. Yakym reflects on Walorski’s successful nine-year tenure in Washington, where she went to “shake things up” and deliver results for Hoosier families and businesses. Yakym goes on to say that “families are suffering right now and Washington isn’t listening to the concerns of Hoosiers across the district as President Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Washington Democrats lead our nation in the wrong direction.” He then points out how Walorski showed him that “if you fight hard enough, stand for conservative values, and never give up, you can bring change.”  Yakym closes by committing to keeping this spirit, “Jackie’s spirit,” alive to honor her legacy and serve Hoosiers in Washington as Indiana’s next Republican Congressman for the 2nd District. Horse Race Status: Safe Yakym.

General Assembly

HD74: McNamara faces abortion issue

A local lawmaker was at the forefront of the Indiana General Assembly’s recent abortion debate, and she now faces re-election challenges from the ideological left and right (Langhorne, Evansville Courier & Press). Rep. Wendy McNamara, a Republican who’s represented District 76 the last 12 years, carried the House version of Senate Bill 1, the legislation that became law following a special session. It imposes a near-total ban on abortion, and as Gov. Eric Holcomb penned his signature, McNamara said the bill “makes Indiana one of the most pro-life states in the nation.” Seeking a seventh term, McNamara’s opposed by Democrat Katherine Rybak, who supports abortion rights, as well as self-described “independent conservative” Cheryl Batteiger-Smith, who feels the near-total ban wasn’t enough. Rybak and Batteiger-Smith are seeking political office for the first time. The legislation that became law was aimed at protecting women and babies, McNamara said upon its passage. It prohibits abortion at any stage of gestation except in cases of rape, incest, fatal fetal anomalies or when the pregnant person’s life is at risk. Rybak and Batteiger-Smith, meanwhile, were not shy about airing their views on the subject. “I say shame on her (McNamara) for sponsoring that bill,” said Rybak, a retired attorney who still does family mediation and other legal work. “I think abortion is a very complicated issue. Every person’s situation is different, and I don’t think a bunch of politicians in Indianapolis should be making that decision for all of the women in Indiana.” God put it in my heart instantly that I needed to be a voice for the unborn, and I didn’t feel we had that representation in Southern Indiana,” said Batteiger-Smith, who has worked in an Evansville insurance office for many years and was an Indiana Republican Convention delegate this year. Horse Race Status: Likely McNamara.

SD31: FOPs endorse Walker

Local law enforcement organizations in Fishers and Lawrence announced their support for State Senator Kyle Walker today in his reelection campaign for Senate District 31. Senate District 31 encompasses parts of Hamilton and Marion counties, including all of Fishers and part of Lawrence. The Fishers Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 199 and the Lawrence Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 159 cited Walker’s record on advancing efforts to reduce crime in Central Indiana and support law enforcement.“Sen. Walker has taken meaningful action to help reduce crime across our region and support local law enforcement officers as we protect and serve,” said Christopher Owens, President of the Fishers FOP Lodge 199. “Sen. Walker has worked closely with our Fishers police officers to support, amplify and strengthen the work we’re doing to keep the community safe.” Horse Race Status: Tossup.

Local

Carrasco, Mears debate

The candidates for Marion County prosecutor were finally able to address the issues plaguing the city of Indianapolis head to head in a public forum on Tuesday (Darling, WIBC). The forum put on by North Shadeland Alliance had the candidates answering questions in a debate-like event. The topic that dominated the discussion was Indy’s problem with violent crime, but there were also questions asked about low-level marijuana possession and abortion. “I’ve been very clear about where I stand on those issues,” said incumbent prosecutor Ryan Mears (D). “I don’t think it’s appropriate to continue to prosecute simple possession of marijuana. I don’t think it’s appropriate to prosecute women doctors and nurses (over abortion). We’re going to focus on violent crime. We’re not going to waste time on those other issues.” His challenger, former state inspector general Cyndi Carassco (R), believes the focus on violent crime from Mears has not been all there. “The people who got to participate (in the forum) got to see there is a big difference between the prosecutor (Mears) and myself,” she said.

Presidential 2024

Pence to speak in Indy Oct. 4

Former Vice President Mike Pence will speak at an Indianapolis event next month, one of his first speaking opportunities in Indianapolis since he left Washington D.C., last year (IndyStar). Pence is the keynote speaker at The Remnant Trust’s 25th Anniversary Celebration on Oct. 4 at the Columbia Club. The Remnant Trust is nonprofit based in Indiana “committed to elevating educational standards and the public’s understanding of individual liberty and human dignity” through historical documents. A dinner ticket is $350 per guest and a ticket that includes both the dinner and reception with Pence costs $750 per guest. Sponsorships range from $1,000 to $5,000. Proceeds will expand the trust’s educational programming.

Trump sees ‘problems’ if indicted

Former President Donald Trump said Thursday the nation would face “problems ... the likes of which perhaps we’ve never seen” if he is indicted over his handling of classified documents after leaving office, an apparent suggestion that such a move by the Justice Department could spark violence from Trump’s supporters (Politico). The former president said an indictment wouldn’t stop him from running for the White House again and repeatedly said Americans “would not stand” for his prosecution. “If a thing like that happened, I would have no prohibition against running,” Trump said in an interview with conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt. “I think if it happened, I think you’d have problems in this country the likes of which perhaps we’ve never seen before. I don’t think the people of the United States would stand for it.” Hewitt asked Trump what he meant by “problems.” “I think they’d have big problems. Big problems. I just don’t think they’d stand for it. They will not sit still and stand for this ultimate of hoaxes,” Trump said.

Trump begins to amplify QAnon

After winking at QAnon for years, Donald Trump is overtly embracing the baseless conspiracy theory, even as the number of frightening real-world events linked to it grows (AP). On Tuesday, using his Truth Social platform, the Republican former president reposted an image of himself wearing a Q lapel pin overlaid with the words “The Storm is Coming.” In QAnon lore, the “storm” refers to Trump’s final victory, when supposedly he will regain power and his opponents will be tried, and potentially executed, on live television. As Trump contemplates another run for the presidency and has become increasingly assertive in the Republican primary process during the midterm elections, his actions show that far from distancing himself from the political fringe, he is welcoming it. He’s published dozens of recent Q-related posts, in contrast to 2020, when he claimed that while he didn’t know much about QAnon, he couldn’t disprove its conspiracy theory.

At the end of Saturday night’s Donald Trump rally, something strange (well, more strange than usual) happened. As the former president delivered the eight-minute monologue that concluded his speech, dramatic strings music began to play in the background and a portion of the mesmerized crowd raised their hands with their pointer fingers extended in an odd salute (Yahoo News). The song has not been definitively identified, although some — including The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer — said it is titled “WWG1WGA” after the QAnon slogan, “Where we go one, we go all,” and is affiliated with the movement. The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman speculated Trump may have used a song titled “Mirrors” by film and TV composer Will Van De Crommer. But, as a music professor who analyzed “Mirrors” after Trump used it in a video told Vice in August, the two songs are “identical.”

Trump approval at 34%

Former President Trump’s favorability rating has dropped to a new low after slowly trickling down over the past few months. A new NBC News poll released Sunday found that 34% of registered voters said they have a positive view of Trump, while 54% say they have a negative view of him. Trump’s favorability rating was at its lowest in April 2021, when his rating fell to 32% in the same NBC poll. The former president’s favorability score is down slightly since last month, with the same 54% saying they have a negative view of Trump, but 36% saying they had a positive view of him. While Trump’s favorability score has trickled down, President Biden’s score has gone up, though only slightly. This month, 45% said they approve of the president – a 2-point increase since last month. Contrarily, 52% of voters say they disapprove of Biden, which has gone down 3 percentage points since last month.

Biden undecided on ‘24 run

President Biden told 60 Minutes last Thursday that while he intends to run for re-election in 2024, the decision is still up in the air. “Sir, are you committed to running again, or are there certain conditions that have to be right?” Pelley asked. “Look, if I were to say to you, I’m running again, all of a sudden, a whole range of things come into play that I have – requirements I have to change and move and do,” Mr. Biden said. “In terms of election laws, and it’s much too early to make that kind of decision. I’m a great respecter of fate. And so, what I’m doing is I’m doing my job. I’m gonna do that job. And within the timeframe that makes sense after this next election cycle here, going into next year, make a judgment on what to do. Look, my intention as I said to begin with is that I would run again. But it’s just an intention. But is it a firm decision that I run again? That remains to be seen.”” 

Trump declassified docs ‘by thinking about it’

In his first TV appearance since a court-authorized search of his Florida home last month, Donald Trump reasserted Wednesday that any documents taken from the White House to Mar-a-Lago were declassified while he was in office, adding that a president can carry that out “even by thinking about it” (Washington Post). “There doesn’t have to be a process, as I understand it,” Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity. “You’re the president — you make that decision.”

Hot polls

North Carolina: Democrat CHERI BEASLEY is ahead of Rep. TED BUDD 49% to 48%, per Civiqs. (Stay tuned to this one.)

Georgia: Democratic Sen. RAPHAEL WARNOCK holds a slight lead over HERSCHEL WALKER, 45% to 41%, according to Monmouth. Meanwhile, CBS/YouGov finds Warnock ahead 51% to 49%. But GOP Gov. BRIAN KEMP leads STACEY ABRAMS 52% to 46%.

Ohio: Republican J.D. VANCE leads Rep. TIM RYAN by 1 point in the Senate race, 46% to 45%, per Marist. But GOP Gov. MIKE DeWINE is crushing NAN WHALEY, 55% to 37%.

New Hampshire: Democratic Sen. MAGGIE HASSAN is ahead of Bolduc 53% to 40%, per American Research Group, which also finds Republican Gov. CHRIS SUNUNU besting Democrat TOM SHERMAN 53% to 38%. Similarly, the University of New Hampshire has Sununu ahead 55% to 37%.