Brian Howey: Braun-McCormick race an abortion ‘referendum’

Brian Howey

Indiana is not a state where citizens can petition for an issue referendum to appear on the ballot. Voters in neighboring Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky voted to sustain abortion rights after the U.S. Supreme Court returned the issue to the states in June 2022. So did voters in red states such as Kansas and Montana.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jennifer McCormick intends her candidacy against Republican nominee Sen. Mike Braun and Libertarian Donald Rainwater to be an appeal for abortion rights between now and November.

“That’s exactly right,” McCormick told me three hours before the polls closed May 7 and Braun won the GOP nomination. “A vote for me is a vote for that purpose. There’s a clear difference. I’m going to fight to restore those rights under any authority I can, working in a bipartisan fashion, using our committees, board and our agencies. I also know, too, what everybody’s fear is, that (Republicans are) not going to restore those rights and will take them further.”

The first post-Dobbs Supreme Court decision election was in November 2022. Indiana Right to Life CEO Mike Fichter observed that not a single Republican legislator who voted for those abortion restrictions lost. When Ball State’s Hoosier Poll in January asked about abortion access, 31.3% of respondents answered “legal in most cases” and 27.8% answered “legal in all cases” (or close to 60% want some access) while 27.2% answered “illegal in most cases,” and 10.3% responded with “illegal in all cases.”

“A lot of it was timing,” said McCormick of the 2022 election. “People hadn’t been informed as much as they should have been. They hadn’t felt the impact; they hadn’t watched the actions since then. It was pretty early.”

Indiana passed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the U.S. a month after the Supreme Court ruling and other states followed suit. Former Vice President in ex-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has called for a national abortion ban.

“Now people are paying attention to the rhetoric at the national level where they are talking about using Roe for other rights and other freedoms,” McCormick said. “People weren’t misinformed; they were uninformed. And now we have this piece that now there’s been a little time for it to sink in on exactly what happened. People are coming up for air.”

Braun is ardently pro-life. In 2020, he called for the Supreme Court to re-examine Roe v. Wade. In 2023, he proposed federal legislation that would have required parental notification before any unemancipated minor could seek an abortion, saying, “Hoosiers put their trust in me to stand up for the unborn, and that’s what I’ve been proud to do every day in the Senate.” His platform reads: “State lawmakers must work to ensure the gains we have made to protect life are secured and strengthened.”

Faced with a lieutenant governor campaign at the June Indiana Republican Convention by conservative Noblesville pastor Micah Beckwith, Braun announced just hours after he won the Republican nomination that he would nominate Indianapolis state Rep. Julie McGuire, who defeated pro-life activist Rep. John Jacob in the 2022 GOP primary.

“Julie McGuire is a strong conservative who has lived the values of faith, family, and community,” Braun said. “Like me, Julie didn’t come from the farm system of politics — her experience comes from the real world serving her neighbors, raising a family, and getting things done on issues like child services and health freedom.

“Julie shares my vision of making Indiana a national beacon of freedom and opportunity, and I’m proud to have her on the team,” Braun said.

McCormick is a rare nominee. She switched from the GOP to the Democratic Party after declining to seek reelection as the Republican superintendent of public instruction. That’s an anomaly in modern Hoosier politics. Typically, gubernatorial nominees in Indiana are party stalwarts, not “swing voters,” but that’s what McCormick is.

I wrote a column recently saying if Republicans nominate Mike Braun, Micah Beckwith, Jim Banks and Todd Rokita, it will be the “testosterone ticket.” I asked McCormick if she would consider an “estrogen ticket” or even a Republican as lieutenant governor?

“Maybe. Nothing is off the table,” McCormick said. “I’m looking for the best person regardless of gender.”

Brian Howey is senior writer and columnist for Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs, where this commentary previously appeared. Tom Davies and Jarred Meeks of State Affairs contributed to this column. Find Howey on Facebook and X @hwypol. Send comments to [email protected].