By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS — To hear Attorney General Curtis Hill tell it to Indiana Republican Party delegates last week, he and President Trump are two peas in a pod.

“Look, I’m not perfect; no one is,” Hill said in his appeal to GOP delegates. “But like President Trump, I have faced accusations and investigations designed to destroy me politically. Like President Trump, I am a threat to Democrats and the radical liberal agenda. Both President Trump and I are wounded, some would say, and yes we are both warriors with battle scars, but I have grown stronger and wiser from every experience. Like the president, I have stood my ground and renewed my faith and continued to do my job.”

Hill was coming off a 30-day Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission suspension the day before his delegate appeal in sanctions for his March 2018 sexual groping of a Democrat legislator and three female General Assembly aides. Trump has faced more than two dozen sexual harassment and assault accusations, including one from E. Jean Carroll, an advice columnist who was Miss Indiana University in 1964. She has alleged that Donald Trump raped her in a Manhattan luxury department store dressing room in the mid-1990s.

Hill’s strategy to lash his political fate President Trump comes as the latter is sagging in the polls, trailing Democrat Joe Biden by 12% in a national Fox News Poll last week and 50-38% in a New York Times/Siena Poll released on Tuesday. NYT/Siena also showed Biden leading in battleground states Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina. On Saturday, Trump was incensed when his first MAGA rally since the coronavirus pandemic in Tulsa brought out only 6,200 supporters in a 19,000-seat arena. It fueled the notion that Trump is on the political ropes.

The strategy here in Mike Pence’s Indiana is not a slam dunk. His chief rival in the AG nomination fight is former congressman Todd Rokita, who tied his 2018 Republican U.S. Senate nomination fight to the fortunes of President Trump, at one point donning a red MAGA hat before a crowd at the Indiana Republican Congress of Counties in January 2018. Mike Braun, running as an “outsider businessman” vowing to “drain the swamp” which was Trump code for voters, easily dispatched Reps. Rokita and Luke Messer. Braun finished with 41%, compared to 30% for Rokita and 28.8% for Messer.

Trump easily won the 2016 Indiana Republican primary 53% to 36% over U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (Ohio Gov. John Kasich had 7.4%), and carried Indiana by a 19% plurality over Hillary Clinton in the general election.

Since then, Trump has remained popular with Hoosier Republicans, but not at his November 2016 apex. A BK Strategies Poll of 600 likely general election voters released by the Indiana GOP on May 25 put President Trump’s approve/disapprove at 49/48% and Vice President Mike Pence at 51/44% (Gov. Eric Holcomb stood at 72/15% and Attorney General Hill at 16/29%). Prior to the 2018 Senate primary, Morning Consult put Trump’s approval at just 69% among Republicans. With independent voters, he stood at -14%.

In more recent Indiana tracking, Morning Consult had President Trump’s approve/disapprove at 50/47% in December 2019 as the House impeached him. In February 2020 as the Senate acquitted him, Trump’s approve/disapprove stood at 53/44%. But that was before the coronavirus pandemic killed 2,300 Hoosiers and 120,000 Americans, the subsequent economic collapse that has idled 750,000 Hoosier workers, and the reaction to the George Floyd murder.

Other polls from 2017 through 2019 by Ball State’s Bowen Center, Gravis and NBC/Marist put Trump’s approval at 47% and 48% and disapproval between 46 and 48%.

So Hill is betting that his overtly pro-Trump appeal that includes similar Trump grievance and victimization could possibly play well before the delegates. “Over the past two years I have been the subject of relentless attacks and smears the likes of which few have endured,” Hill said in his video presentation. “Some Republicans who seem too afraid to do what is right are following the Democrat strategy to question my ability to win in November.”

Those “attacks” and “smears” have come from Gov. Eric Holcomb, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, GOP legislative leaders and Sen. Braun, or what Hill has called the GOP “establishment.” Holcomb has cited a “zero tolerance” stance for state employees. HPI asked if Braun was backing a candidate for attorney general and didn’t get a response.

Rokita’s 2018 Senate campaign slogan was “Defeat the Elite,” also a swipe at the current Republican hierarchy. In addition to Rokita, Hill is facing nomination challenges from Decatur County Prosecutor Nate Harter and Zionsville attorney John Westercamp. Delegate votes will be mailed in by July 9 and a winner declared on July 10.

Last week, Democrats nominated last week former two-term Evansville mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel, who led Hill 39-32% in that BK Strategies Poll. HPI Horse Race Status: Tossup.

Bopp backing Hill


Former Republican National Committeeman Jim Bopp Jr., posted a Facebook video backing Attorney General Curtis Hill’s renomination. “Four years ago I supported Curtis Hill for attorney general,” Bopp said. “What I saw was a principled full-spectrum conservative and one who promised to have the courage to lead, and I have the yellow T shirt that’s a bit faded now to prove it.” The Terre Haute attorney continued, “Politicians rarely fulfill their promises, but Curtis Hill has. He has defended the right to life, religious freedom, fought to stop sanctuary cities, defended the 2nd amendment, protected taxpayers, fought government overreach and sought to stop most of the Obama administration’s worst policies. Principles really don’t matter without the courage to carry them out. Curtis has been undeterred.” Bopp then addressed the allegations that led to Hill’s 30-day suspension by the Indiana Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Commission. “Like all of us, Curtis is not perfect. We all know Curtis made at least one mistake. He has humbly accepted the punishment.” Bopp called sexual battery allegations as “grossly exaggerated,” noting the Supreme Court and Democrat special prosecutor Dan Sigler, “who interviewed all the witnesses” and “refused to file criminal charges.” Bopp added, “Moderates fear Curtis because he is a successful conservative politician. I just don’t think Republicans should cower to Democratic threats and do their job for them.”

Krupp says he’ll back AG nominee


Former Republican attorney general candidate Adam Krupp said he met with Attorney General Curtis Hill and will back him if renominated. “Since I exited the race, Curtis Hill has checked in multiple times to see how I’m doing and chat about my next career move,” Krupp said. “After a productive conversation about leadership, culture, staff development and outreach, I pledged my support if he secures the nomination. I committed to doing so on the trail when asked by delegates, and I am staying true to my word. I trust he would have done the same for me (unlike Todd Rokita, who has publicly refused to support the party’s nominee if he doesn’t succeed).”

Weinzapfel will defend Obamacare

Weinzapfel says he jumped into the race because of the groping contends all four Republicans have been silent on the issues most on the minds of Hoosiers: criminal justice reform and ways the office can respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Weinzapfel argues Republicans’ 10-year push to unravel the Affordable Care Act puts them out of touch with Hoosiers, especially with a pandemic going on. And he says he’d push for more transparency in how nursing homes are taking care of their parents.

Tallian vows to stay involved


State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, saw her dream of becoming Indiana’s next attorney general dashed last week after being narrowly defeated for the Democratic nomination by former Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel (Carden, NWI Times). Nevertheless, the four-term Region lawmaker isn’t giving up the fight on issues she’s championed over 14 years in the Statehouse, including pursuing criminal justice reform, preserving the Healthy Indiana Plan and legalizing medicinal marijuana. “It is always disappointing to lose an election,” Tallian said in a video message to her supporters. “But I will be in the state Senate, in January, and will be working on all those things that are so important to all of us.”

Governor

Myers announces justice reforms


Democratic gubernatorial candidate Woody Myers unveiled a criminal justice reform plan that mandates new training for police, shifts funding to social services and decriminalizes marijuana (Smith, Indiana Public Media). The plan includes reducing the prison population, investing in minority communities, measures to address police brutality and more oversight of law enforcement. He does not agree with the phrase “defund the police” – though parts of his plan align with some who advocate that policy. He wants to reprioritize funding toward “holistic, inter-sectional approaches in public safety” – for instance, helping mental health professionals address what he views as mental health challenges. “I would just prefer that we do more of that so that our police can truly deal with the violent crimes that are out there,” Myers said.

Myers calls Holcomb ‘tepid’ on pandemic


Gov. Holcomb has been “tepid” in his response to the coronavirus pandemic, said Dr. Myers. “Tepidly means, he hasn’t tried to rile up the traditional Republican base as they have been in many other states,” said Myers on The Rob Kendall Show on 93 WIBC. “On the other hand, he hasn’t done all we should do to get our arms around this.” One of Holcomb’s shortfalls, according to Myers, is a lack of getting people tested. “We should have closed our schools earlier. We should have pushed social distancing harder,” Myers added. “It’s still not where it should be.” Myers said not enough people are getting tested for COVID-19 because of a “lack of funding in the public health infrastructure” calling that infrastructure “abysmal” in Indiana. Myers even went as far as accusing Holcomb of taking campaign contributions from an out-of-state contractor in order to conduct testing throughout the state. “I can’t say for sure those are related,” Myers said. “But I think there’s a connection in there somewhere.” HPI Horse Race Status: Safe Holcomb.

Presidential 2020


Biden up 8%  in Wisconsin

Former Vice President Joe Biden has widened his advantage over President Donald Trump in Wisconsin, according to Wednesday’s Marquette University Law School Poll (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). Biden had 49% support to Trump’s 41% support, among registered voters, in what may be the key battleground state in the fall race. Biden held a 3-point margin in polls conducted in March and May. Biden and the president were tied in February. “This has been a good gain for Biden at this point,” poll director Charles Franklin said. “And it’s a relatively widespread gain. He’s picking up across different regions and different groups.”

NYT/Siena poll shows Biden leads battleground states

President Trump has lost significant ground in the six battleground states that clinched his Electoral College victory in 2016, according to New York Times/Siena College surveys, with Joseph R. Biden Jr. opening double-digit leads in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Biden leads 47-36% in Michigan, 49-38% in Wisconsin, 50-40% in Pennsylvania, 47-41% in Florida, 48-41% in Arizona and 49-40% in North Carolina. Trump’s once-commanding advantage among white voters has nearly vanished, a development that would all but preclude the president’s re-election if it persists. Mr. Biden now has a 21-point lead among white college graduates, and the president is losing among white voters in the three Northern battleground states — not by much, but he won them by nearly 10 points in 2016.As of now, 59 percent of voters in Michigan disapprove of Mr. Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, the highest level of disapproval in any battleground state polled. And nearly 40 percent of registered voters there, including 11 percent of Republicans, say he has treated their state worse than others in response to the pandemic.

DNC will have virtual convention

Organizers upended the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday, as they told state delegations not to travel to Milwaukee, moved the convention from Fiserv Forum to the nearby Wisconsin Center and added satellite events around the country (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). Delegates will cast votes remotely, even for the presidential nomination in what is shaping up to be an increasingly virtual event. Organizers also announced that large-scale events, such as a welcome reception for delegates and media and a party for volunteers, are canceled due to coronavirus concerns as cases surge in the U.S. The decision to overhaul plans for the August 17-20 convention came after consulting with public health officials about the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers said. The moves by the Democrats stand in stark contrast to the Republicans, who shifted their main convention events from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Jacksonville, Florida. President Donald Trump plans to accept the renomination in front of large crowds expected to attend the Aug. 24-27 event.