John Krull: A governor’s race that stretches reality

This year’s Indiana governor’s race promises to be an odd contest.

The two candidates — Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Braun and former Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick, a onetime Republican now turned Democrat — pursued unusual paths to the race.

Braun first claimed statewide office in 2018 when he launched what initially appeared to be a dark-horse campaign in the GOP U.S. Senate primary against two well-established and well-funded congressmen, Luke Messer and Todd Rokita.

Braun, who amassed a considerable personal fortune in business, leveled the playing field, though, and proceeded to bludgeon his opponents by spending, spending, spending his own cash in the contest.

Braun’s spending was so lavish that the Federal Election Commission found that his campaign had violated the law in ways so egregious that the FEC imposed a fine of nearly $160,000 on it.

In spite of this laxity regarding matters of law and finance — or perhaps because of it — Braun became one of former President Donald Trump’s favorite senators. There seemed to be no service, great or small, that Braun wasn’t willing to perform for Trump.

This devotion continued into Braun’s campaign to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Braun touted during that race that he and Trump were practically the same being.

Braun also vowed to fight for the causes most dear to Trump and the MAGA crowd, especially border security and keeping critical race theory out of schools.

This was odd, because Indiana’s southernmost point is at least 1,000 miles from the U.S.-Mexican border, and states have no authority to deal with either international relations or immigration policy. What’s more, critical race theory isn’t taught in Indiana schools and never has been.

Normally, candidates for governor at least pretend to be interested in issues of importance to the state. (Even Mike Pence managed to feign delight in questions of immediate concern to Hoosiers, even though his gaze was locked on national horizons.)

Braun, though, seems determined to blaze a new trail — which is easier to do if one is willing to spend a ton of money and doesn’t pay much attention to any restrictions about how it should be spent.

McCormick is a different story.

Recruited by the GOP to run against Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz in 2016, she came to prominence as part of the Republican assault on traditional public education. She was a willing, if incredibly naive, warrior in that assault.

Once in office, though, she claimed the blinders limiting her vision had been removed and that she finally could see clearly.

Her move from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party took place in a series of hops, skips and jumps.

She began to criticize, with considerable accuracy and effect, the GOP’s education policies, pointing out that the results of Republican plans in no way justified the tremendous outlays of taxpayer funds to private interests.

Republicans, not surprisingly, saw her conversion as either apostasy or betrayal. The venom they spat at her was all the more poisonous as a result.

But her switch from the party of Lincoln to the party of Jefferson and Jackson didn’t immediately endear her to all Democrats.

Many Democrats still carried hard feelings regarding the bruising campaign that turned out Ritz, which struck them as little more than well-funded bullying.

Perhaps even more problematic was that the most active and effective part of the Indiana Democratic Party’s coalition — teachers, parents and education advocates — continued to view her with wariness, uncertain as to whether her embrace of them and their values was to be trusted.

Many have yet to let go of that distrust.

So, we have a governor’s race in which one candidate, the frontrunner in fact, thus far has campaigned on issues that have little bearing on Indiana and its citizens. He also has pledged ultimate fealty not to the people of this state, but to a man who’s facing more than 90 criminal charges in four different courts.

His opponent is a woman who, at different times, has alienated key factions of both political parties and will have to spend much time, energy and money convincing even her own partisans to support her enthusiastically.

Ah, well.

Politics in Indiana is always a strange business.

Some years, though, are stranger than others.

John Krull is director of Franklin College‚Äôs Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students, where this commentary originally appeared. The opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the views of Franklin College. Send comments to [email protected].