How this year’s race for lieutenant governor bucks tradition

Rep. Julie McGuire, left, and Micah Beckwith. (Credit: Indiana House Republicans; Beckwith campaign)

May 17, 2024
Key Points
  • Republicans and Democrats will vote on a lieutenant governor nominee at their conventions.
  • Pastor breaks from tradition to challenge Mike Braun’s lieutenant governor pick.
  • “Nothing’s off the table” for Democrats’ pick.

The usually quiet process of selecting party nominees for lieutenant governor has taken on additional intrigue, as a controversial Republican outsider has challenged the status quo and the Democratic gubernatorial nominee is keeping her options open. 

For years, parties have typically rubber-stamped their gubernatorial candidate’s choice for lieutenant governor. 

Republican nominee Mike Braun in May announced his choice: state Rep. Julie McGuire, R-Indianapolis. But she will face a challenge from pastor Micah Beckwith, who has campaigned for the nomination for more than a year and claims to have secured support from nearly half of the majority he would need from the party’s 1,800 nominee-deciding delegates. 

As Republicans have not lost a statewide election contest in more than a decade, whoever prevails for the lieutenant governor nomination at the June 15 GOP convention will likely become the state’s next number two. 

Democrats appear to have a smoother road ahead of their July 13 convention, but gubernatorial candidate Jennifer McCormick has not yet offered up a candidate and recently told State Affairs that “nothing’s off the table,” including selecting a Republican running mate. 

Beckwith’s push

Beckwith, pastor of Life Church’s Noblesville campus, told State Affairs he would be campaigning daily for the next five weeks. 

“We’re going to try to hit two counties in a day — one in the morning, one in the afternoon. We’ll just be going to county chairs and delegates and letting them ask all the questions,” he said.

He has run for formal office in the past, finishing third in the 2020 Republican primary for the state’s 5th Congressional District. The seat was ultimately captured by Rep. Victoria Spartz. 

Beckwith is also a podcast host and may be best known for a tumultuous tenure on the Hamilton East Public Library Board of Trustees, where he pushed for an audit of children’s books. The unpopular plan ultimately collapsed, and the trustees who pushed for it soon left the board. 

Beckwith went public with his lieutenant governor candidacy as he left the board and has since barnstormed the state hoping to court potential delegates. His website stresses he is seeking to give Republicans another choice. 

Some 1,600 Republican delegates were selected in the May 7 primary election. Every county is represented by a different number of delegates relative to its population, with some fielding only a handful while larger counties field more than 100 each. 

Most delegates are elected, but party leaders must sometimes fill vacancies to reach the 1,800 number. 

Beckwith said some 400 of the 1,600 newly elected delegates had already pledged to support his bid. 

Though Braun selected McGuire, the nominee said last week he welcomed competition for the spot as his running mate. 

He told IndyStar: “I think that we’ll win that competition, and if by chance that doesn’t work, which I think is very slim, I’ll deal with it.”

McGuire fits recent trend

McGuire, a one-term legislator from Indianapolis, fits into a recent trend of Republican lieutenant governors: women with legislative backgrounds who represent a different geographical part of the state from their running mate. 

Former Lt. Govs. Becky Skillman and Sue Ellspermann and outgoing Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch each fit that description. 

McGuire defeated state Rep. John Jacob, a staunch anti-abortion activist who clashed with party leadership, in the Republican primary on her way to winning election to the Statehouse in 2022. 

She authored one bill signed into law this past session centered on voiding parental rights over children sexually abused by a parent. She co-authored several education bills. 

McGuire may be best known as the former author of a proposed bill to block a new tax district in downtown Indianapolis meant to pay for city services. A compromise was ultimately reached to allow the plan. McGuire removed herself as the bill’s author and voted against it. 

Braun’s campaign and McGuire did not respond to requests for an interview. 

Braun told IndyStar that he recruited McGuire due to her knowledge of health care policy and that he would campaign on her behalf with delegates. 

Two state constitutional officers threw their support behind McGuire on Monday: state Treasurer Daniel Elliott and Secretary of State Diego Morales. 

“Indiana Republican Convention delegates will have their choice as to who they will support, as do I,” Morales said in an X post. “I will be supporting Julie for Indiana lieutenant governor.”

“Delegates will have a choice at this convention, and I encourage them to choose Julie McGuire as our Republican nominee for lieutenant governor,” Elliott said in a similar post

Not the first contested race

This year’s competition harks back to the ’90s, when Republican delegates last oversaw several contentious lieutenant governor nomination processes. 

In 1996, GOP gubernatorial nominee and Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith left the selection entirely up to delegates. 

Four years earlier, Attorney General Linley Pearson, the Republican nominee, nearly quit the convention over nominations for lieutenant governor and attorney general that he did not agree with. 

Both tickets ended up losing in the general election. 

In the ’80s, the GOP experimented with the idea of allowing voters to select the lieutenant governor nominee. John Mutz won a five-way primary in 1980 and eventually served two terms. 

Mike McDaniel, a former state GOP chairman who served as Mutz’s campaign manager and chief of staff, said the party returned to the convention system in 1984 because leaders believed a lieutenant governor primary wasted campaign money. 

McDaniel, a previous delegate of some 15 state and national conventions, supports the tradition of selecting the gubernatorial candidate’s choice for lieutenant governor.

“I think that’s important because the governor has to serve with this person for four or maybe eight years, and you want somebody you can trust, work with and be part of a team with to get things done,” McDaniel said. 

McDaniel called Beckwith’s campaign, launched well before the gubernatorial race came into focus, “very, very unusual.” He said Braun will be the party’s new leader at the convention, so backing his choice is a sign of unity. 

“If [Braun] has a preference, we should give him his preference,” McDaniel said. 

Holcomb weighs in

More recently, delegates have shown themselves willing to break with the gubernatorial candidate on selections for other constitutional offices. In 2022, the convention chose Diego Morales over Gov. Eric Holcomb’s pick, Holli Sullivan, for the secretary of state nomination. 

Holcomb, who briefly served as lieutenant governor under former Gov. Mike Pence, weighed in on this year’s competition on Tuesday, telling reporters that delegates should be the ultimate decision-makers on the nominee. 

“And we have a history in Indiana of some tickets being blessed and some not,” he said. “And so that’s very instructive going into this convention and [it’s] incumbent upon the gubernatorial candidate to make their pitch to the convention delegates of their preference. And so I’ve been there, done that. And it worked out OK for me.”

What does a lieutenant governor do? 

Whomever the voters select in November will have a role to play in the Legislature and within state agencies. 

The lieutenant governor presides over the Indiana Senate and may cast a tiebreaker vote if needed. The position also fills in for the governor if the latter becomes incapacitated or dies.

The lieutenant governor oversees four state agencies: the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, the Indiana Housing & Community Development Authority, the Indiana Office of Tourism Development and the Indiana Office of Community & Rural Affairs. 

Finally, the position chairs the Indiana Mental Health Roundtable, the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Task Force and the Civics Education Commission.

Democrats prepared to back McCormick’s pick

Delegates for the Indiana Democratic Party are preparing to support their nominee’s pick for governor, Chairman Mike Schmuhl told State Affairs. 

“It really falls to [McCormick] to make that selection over the next few weeks,” Schmuhl said, adding that both parties have typically backed the governor’s selection and that Republicans are “upending tradition” with Beckwith’s candidacy.

“We really do envision it as the pick of the gubernatorial nominee,” he said. “Not only is it a convention pick, but it’s also who the governor wants as a governing partner if elected. It’s a pretty serious responsibility.” 

Asked about McCormick possibly backing a Republican for the Democratic lieutenant governor nomination, Schmuhl said he could not comment on her process directly. 

“I think my recommendation is when you’re picking someone for this spot, you want to find somebody who expands your appeal and your campaign’s reach,” Schmuhl said, “and who doesn’t limit you or harm you in any way.”

Contact Rory Appleton on X at @roryehappleton or email him at [email protected].

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