CLEVELAND — It’s been a momentous week for Indiana Republicans.
The state where Donald Trump clinched the nomination in May got another big moment in the limelight with the official nomination of Gov. Mike Pence as Trump’s running mate Wednesday night.
But as ecstatic as Hoosier Republicans have been this week, the state’s delegates have also been distracted by the political drama that Pence’s selection has precipitated back home.
Much of that political intrigue unfolded at the Republican National Convention this week since the three major Indiana Republicans vying to replace Pence on the gubernatorial ticket, as well as the people who will make that selection, were part of the state delegation in Cleveland.
In between golf outings and field trips to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 5th District Rep. Susan W. Books, 4th District Rep. Todd Rokita and Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb have lobbied their fellow delegates.
A 22-person committee will convene on Tuesday to vote on Pence’s replacement on the November ballot, and 16 of those committee members were part of this weeks’ convention delegation.
“The word lobby is true and real in our hotel lobby this week,” said former state party chairman Michael McDaniel.
Rokita spent time chatting up delegates on the bus to the convention hall and at restaurants. He also slipped campaign literature under the doors of delegates’ hotel rooms.
“Every night when we got back to our rooms, there’s a flier under the door from him with statistics on campaign financing and poll results,” said Craig Dunn, the 4th District party chairman.
Brooks has her own brochures, and she took delegates up to the cloakroom, a private space for members of Congress on the fourth floor of the Quicken Loans Arena.
Holcomb pulled delegates away to speak to them privately, including bringing at least one delegate to the VIP box on the convention floor.
It’s not just the candidates themselves. They all have their own surrogates who don’t have a vote on the 22-person committee but are still trying to influence the process.
“How are the Chicago Cubs, and who’re you voting for? It’s that kind of thing,” Dunn said.
The campaign to replace Pence is a sprint. Officially, it’s only been going on for a week, although the behind-the-scenes conversations began taking place as soon as the Pence vice presidential rumors began swirling.
Candidates in Indiana cannot appear on the same ballot for two different offices. All three candidates withdrew from their re-election ballots last Friday just minutes after Trump officially announced Pence would be his running mate.
The selection process, and the fact that it’s vested in just 22 individuals, most of whom have been staying in the same hotel all week, made for an awkward time. What’s more, many of these people run in the same small political circles in Indiana. That’s why delegates kept their preferences close to their chests.
“There’s less overt side-taking publicly because we don’t want to lose friends among the other two,” Dunn said.
“I say I have three friends running, and I’m for my friends,” McDaniel said.
Late Friday, Pence and Sen. Dan Coats backed Holcomb .
Voting on Tuesday will be anonymous. Four candidates are seeking to be on the ballot. (State Sen. Jim Tomes also threw his hat into the ring this week.) Whoever comes in last will be eliminated, and then the committee will continue balloting until someone gets a majority or 12 votes.
The decision will likely come down to who is most prepared to mount a competitive campaign — quickly. And that means money.
Brooks and Rokita can transfer money from their congressional campaign accounts to a state run, and the size of their coffers was a big talking point with fellow delegates.
Rokita ended the 2nd quarter with $1.4 million in the bank. Brooks had about $1.3 million.
Holcomb became lieutenant governor earlier this year after dropping a bid to replace Coats, his former boss, in the Senate. In an interview on the convention floor Thursday night, he tried to distinguish himself from Brooks and Rokita by arguing that he’s been in the state more recently. But he said he too has been raising money and has a campaign infrastructure in place.
The short time frame of this race is appealing to candidates because they don’t have to spend in a divisive primary.
“We’re talking about basically a 100-day campaign from the time someone is selected to the time Nov. 8 rolls around,” McDaniel said.
“There’s not a less expensive way to become governor of Indiana than to do it the way they’re talking about doing it,” he added.
But it’s not just money that’s a selling point for these candidates on Tuesday. It’s also their relationships in the state, which is why the subtle politicking — as important as it has been this week — may be for naught with reputations and personalities in the state already well cemented.
Once Tuesday’s selection is set, the political dominoes in Indiana will continue to fall. Republicans are already jockeying to replace Brooks and Rokita on the congressional ballot and Holcomb on the lieutenant governor line should one of be chosen to replace Pence on Tuesday.
The candidate who’s not selected can likely get back on the ballot to seek re-election to his or her original office, but there’s no guarantee he or she wouldn’t face opposition from another member of their party.