By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS – Word on the street is that U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth is planning to pump up to $15 million into his prospective 2024 Republican gubernatorial nomination contest.

It’s a race that could pit the retiring congressman against U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, who loaned his 2018 U.S. Senate campaign $5.5 million which helped him defeat U.S. Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita, giving the Jasper businessman a decisive early spending edge. By the time Braun had defeated U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly in the general election, FEC reports revealed he had raised $19.6 million while loaning his campaign $11,569,962.

So the 2024 race is poised to be an unprecedented self-funder event. The race is expected to draw Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, Fort Wayne businessman Eric Doden, former state senator Jim Merritt and possibly U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, Attorney General Todd Rokita and Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer.

Braun is expected to make a decision on whether to seek reelection or return to Indiana for a gubernatorial run after the November mid-terms. Hollingworth is working with Messer to make contacts across the state prior to announcing later this year. Rep. Banks told Howey Politics Indiana earlier this spring that his 2024 decision depends on what direction Braun goes. Crouch, who will have the support of legendary financier Bob Grand, is expected to announce later this year.

The question is, do self-funders always win? And can a candidate who is out-raised win?

The most recent answer to that second question is that raising an extraordinarily bigger amount of money occurred in Fort Wayne, where SD14 candidate Ron Turpin ($391,000) raised more than double that of Tyler Johnson ($140,000), who went on to score an impressively large victory on May 3.

But what about gubernatorial races?

The most recent example was Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s defeat of Democrat Terry McAuliffe in November 2021, even though he was out-raised $68 million to $64 million.

In the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp was outraised by Democrat Stacy Abrams $27.4 million to $21.4 million. Should Kemp defeat former senator David Perdue in this spring’s primary, he is expected to face a rematch with Abrams.

But those races weren’t defined by the concept of self-funding. The most recent example of a self-funder’s defeat came in 2006 when Democrat Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (now the U.S. secretary of energy) triumphed in a reelection bid over Republican businessman Dick DeVos, who pumped $35 million of his own money in. It wasn’t close, as Granholm won 56-42%.

There are two self-funder campaigns operating on Indiana’s doorstep. In Michigan, Republicans Kevin Rinke and Perry Johnson have pumped a combined $4.5 million into their race thus far, according to the Detroit Free Press. Rinke has pledged to put as much as $10 million into his bid. That would exceed the roughly $6 million former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder spent from his own fortune in his successful 2010 campaign for governor. 

In Illinois, Democrat Gov. J.B. Pritzker has pledged $90 million of his personal fortune to his reelection campaign this November. He could face Republican Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, who has received a pledge of $35 million from Chicago billionaire Ken Griffin (worth $26.3 billion, according to Forbes). Pritzker, who is worth $3.6 billion, spent more than $171 million in his 2018 election victory over Republican Gov. Bruce Raunier.

Holcomb dismisses Liberty Defense

Indiana’s May primary didn’t see a wave of ultra-conservative challengers ousting incumbent state lawmakers, despite a more concerted push on that front this year (Smith, Indiana Public Media). Many conservative challengers to Republican incumbents this cycle sought to channel anger among some voters over steps Gov. Eric Holcomb took during the COVID-19 pandemic to help protect Hoosiers. That includes his early “Stay-At-Home” order and his mask mandate. Most of those challengers failed. But Holcomb was largely dismissive of questions about what those results mean for his standing at the Statehouse. “Let’s just review the facts: I ran a race,” Holcomb said. “I received more votes than anyone that’s run for governor in the history of this state.”

Congress

CD5: Spartz called ‘worst boss’

U.S. Rep. Victoria Spartz topped a nonpartisan group’s “Worst Bosses” list last year, winning the dubious title of most staff turnover in the House. Her retention record is only getting worse (Politico). Four aides are departing the Indiana Republican’s office this month after another exited weeks ago, leaving a skeleton crew of staffers in the first-term lawmaker’s D.C. office. Spartz’s exodus is on the radar of GOP leadership, which has tried to address her performance as an employer at least twice since the end of last year, according to a senior Republican close to the matter. The frequent departures stem from an allegedly unhealthy work environment, according to interviews with eight people, including more than a half-dozen former staffers as well as Republicans familiar with her office dynamics who were granted anonymity to speak candidly. They described Spartz as an unpredictable boss whose temper can rocket from tepid to boiling. Those former staffers and other Republicans told POLITICO she frequently yells and curses at aides, belittling her staff’s intelligence and berating them in front of others — members, constituents and even with reporters in close proximity. On more than one occasion, three former staffers said, Spartz likened her aides’ writing skills to those of elementary-school students and proclaimed that her children were more talented than her staff. “That’s the common theme: Staffers do their job, and then Victoria comes in saying that they have no idea what they’re doing, that they are morons, calling them ‘idiots,’” said one former staffer. “Senior staff was amazing. “A lot of these younger people need to toughen up,” Spartz told Indy Politics. “We have a lot of good people, which for me is very important. I want to make sure that I’m extending my team in the district and make sure we serve constituents. I’m a person that, you know, if I’m going to dedicate part of my life to the republic I need to get stuff done. “There are different people, different styles. You know, my style is to deliver results. D.C is a tough place so you need to have tough cookies around.”

Braun calls for LGBTQ ratings

U.S. Senators Mike Braun (R-IN), Roger Marshall, M.D. (R-KS), Mike Lee (R-UT), Steve Daines (R-MT), and Kevin Cramer (R-ND) signed a letter May 4 obliging the TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board to create a T.V. rating warning about LGBTQIA+ content in children’s programming (CBS4). The letter, addressed to Mr. Charles Rivkin, Chairman of the Board, begins with thanking the board for “empowering parents through the provision of tools that enable them to identify television content that is not suitable for certain ages”. The letter then goes on to warn the board about the “concerning topics of sexual nature becoming more aggressively politicized and promoted in children’s programming”. Drew Anderon of the Indiana Democrats reacted, saying, “There should be a warning label put up everytime Mike Braun goes on TV because his antics are more about extreme partisanship and debunked conspiracies than actually creating a better future for all Hoosiers. Mike Braun sure seems to care a lot about other peoples’ love lives -- from telling LGBTQ Hoosiers how they should act to believing that interracial marriages should be voided. Democrats join with the majority of Hoosiers and Americans in telling Mike Braun: ‘Get a life!’” 

Nation

NRSC frets as Barnette surges in PA

nfluential Republicans in Washington and among the nationwide party elite are having a belated “oh s--t” moment over the previously unimaginable prospect that Kathy Barnette could win their party’s nomination for the open Senate seat in Pennsylvania (Axios). In Barnette, who’s been soaring in the polls ahead of Tuesday’s primary, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would be dealing with a general election candidate who’d be an opposition researcher’s dream — potentially endangering the GOP effort to take back the Senate. McConnell has been fixated on ensuring the 2022 midterms are not a repeat of the 2012 or 2010 cycles. The Kentuckian said Republicans missed good chances to win the majority in those years because they nominated candidates who talked about things like “legitimate rape” or had to publicly assure voters they weren’t witches. Barnette has surged after releasing a powerful video — “It wasn’t a choice. It was a life.” — in which she movingly talks about how her mother was raped when she was 11 and yet Barnette is the living, breathing byproduct of that horrific circumstance. She joins Missouri Senate candidate Eric Greitens — whose alleged misdeeds are numerous and graphic — on a list of potential Republican Senate nominees giving heartburn to GOP leadership. They not only create the potential of blowing winnable seats but being unmanageable for McConnell should he return as Senate majority leader next year.

Musk to reinstate Trump to Twitter

Elon Musk said he would reverse Twitter Inc.’s ban on former President Donald Trump (Wall Street Journal). “I do think that it was not correct to ban Donald Trump. I think that was a mistake because it alienated a large part of the country, and did not ultimately result in Donald Trump not having a voice,” said Mr. Musk.