Indiana Republican governor debate: 6 things you need to know

The Republican gubernatorial candidates present their arguments to Hoosiers at the Palladium on March 11, 2024. (Credit: Brian Howey)

Mar 12, 2024

CARMEL — With a 90-minute debate, the crucial spring sequence of the six-person Indiana Republican gubernatorial race went into high gear Monday night. At the Palladium, the candidates sparred over local control, pandemic mandates and who is the ultimate “insider.” 

U.S. Sen. Mike Braun joined the field after initially citing a scheduling conflict. He was joined by Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, former Attorney General Curtis Hill, former Commerce Secretary Brad Chambers, Fort Wayne businessman Eric Doden and businesswoman Jamie Reitenour. 

Here are six takeaways from the debate:

1. This might be Reitenour's only debate appearance. She acknowledged that while she surprised many observers by having enough signatures to qualify for the May 7 primary, she likely will not clear the $300,000 fundraising threshold other debate events are demanding. She opened by saying, "I'm not a leader that speaks at you," and ended with: "We have a ground game. We do not need millions of dollars to serve."

2. Hill said, "Hoosiers are hungry for proven conservative leadership," adding that "the truth is under attack" while "America is in trouble." He cited his anti-abortion credentials by reminding the audience that he brought back to Indiana more than a thousand aborted fetuses that had ended up in Illinois and provided a proper burial. He also said that as attorney general, he resisted efforts to create a third “X” gender at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. "I fought back," Hill said. "There are two genders, and that's worth fighting for."

3. Crouch introduced herself as "a wife, a mother and a taxpayer." She touted her "experience to deliver results" at the county, legislative and state levels. She said she will provide "four building blocks for the future," vowing to "grow the economy, invest in education, strengthen our families and communities, and modernize government." She vowed to "ax the tax" — her proposal to eliminate the state income tax — adding that it will be "phased in." She also reminded the audience that "as president of the Senate, I took a tough vote to strengthen our abortion laws, making Indiana one of the most pro-life states in the country."

4. Sen. Braun emphasized his record. "I think it's very important that anyone who wants to lead our state better be there with a track record so you don't have to figure out what they might do. You need to be willing to flesh out those ideas. Of anyone on the stage here, I've got the most recent track record." He vowed to tackle escalating health care costs and added, "Half of our budget has to deal with K-12." He then asked, "Are we getting that bang for the buck?"

5. Chambers stressed he is the "outsider" in the race. "I'm not a career politician. I've never done this before," he said. Chambers added that he spent his early life creating a business and a family. "I'm angry at the state of our politics," he said. "To me it is unacceptable that our average wage and economic growth is below that of the U.S. average. It's unacceptable that Hoosier kids are falling behind educationally. To fix our problems, to grow our economy, to improve the quality of life, it's going to take someone from outside the system. The last time we had an outsider was Gov. Mitch Daniels. That was 12 years ago. It's time to shake things up."

Eric Doden greets supporters.
Eric Doden greets supporters after the debate. (Credit: Brian A. Howey)

6. Doden, who grew up in Butler and Auburn, stressed his small-town roots. He also cited his pastor grandfather. "He played a significant role while I was growing up. He was adamant you put your faith to work," Doden said. "That’s what you can expect from me as governor: A bold vision for the people of Indiana. For 50 years we've forgotten about our small town’s home to 2 million people. We're the only candidate who has a plan."

Watch for full debate analysis in Thursday's edition of Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs Pro.

And don't miss the next governor debates:

Brian A. Howey is senior writer and columnist for Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs. Find Howey on Facebook and X @hwypol.

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