Mike Braun wins the Indiana Republican nomination for governor

Republican gubernatorial nominee Mike Braun and his wife Maureen address the crowd on primary election night. (Credit: Mark Curry)

U.S. Sen. Mike Braun was declared the winner of the Republican gubernatorial nomination shortly after polls in Indiana’s Central Time Zone closed. With 98% of votes counted as of Wednesday morning, Braun had 39.6%, followed by Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch with 21.8%, Brad Chambers with 17.5%, Eric Doden with 11.9 %, Jamie Reitenour with 4.8% and Curtis Hill with 4.5%. Results are preliminary until the primary is certified by election officials.

Braun will face Democrat Jennifer McCormick and Libertarian Donald Rainwater in the November election. McCormick served one term as a Republican superintendent of public instruction but did not seek a second term. She switched to the Democratic Party in 2019.

“You can see we’ve come through, just now this evening, that first hurdle jumped, with the feistiest, most competitive primary we’ve had in the history of our state,” Braun told supporters during his election watch party at Moontown Brewing Co. in Whitestown. “I’ve already had three folks that I ran against aggressively call in, wish me luck and get on board so we can beat the other side of the aisle when it comes to the election in November. I intend to be the most entrepreneurial governor our state has ever known. I can guarantee you, I’ll be the most accessible governor our state has ever had.”

Braun raised more than $12 million, the most any gubernatorial candidate has raised for an open seat in Hoosier history. And unlike the 2018 U.S. Senate race in which he loaned his campaign more than $10 million, this time he spent zero of his own money.

Mike Braun just before his watch party began on May 7, 2024. (Credit: Jarred Meeks)
Mike Braun just before his watch party began on May 7, 2024. (Credit: Jarred Meeks)

“I think that’s dictated by the number of people and how well financed they are,” Braun said in Whitestown on Tuesday afternoon. “I raised every penny here and more than any of the other candidates in terms of raising it, not writing a check. And you’ve got four well-financed campaigns. Very seldom do you have more than maybe one or two, and it’s kind of a foregone conclusion in terms of who the party might want. This is one of those robust, competitive, feisty campaigns, and, sadly, it ends up costing this much.” 

Josh Kelley, Braun’s chief of staff and senior adviser to his gubernatorial campaign, said Braun has raised money from “low-dollar and high-dollar donors. So you’ve got Hoosiers across the state that are willing to write $5, $10, $25 checks to get behind Mike.”

McCormick said in a statement after Braun was nominated: “The primary results are in, setting up a clear choice this November. As your governor, I will stand firm in my commitment to the values that define us as Hoosiers. I will fight to restore our reproductive rights and freedoms, champion for our kids and ensure Hoosiers earn the wages they deserve. Indiana values reflect those of common sense, civility, and bipartisanship.”

The McCormick campaign added, “In stark contrast, Mike Braun’s victory in the Republican primary signals a troubling embrace of extremism that threatens to divide our state and sow further discord. His platform of chaos and fear offers no real solutions to the pressing issues facing Hoosiers, instead opting for divisive rhetoric and fear-mongering tactics.”

If elected in November, Braun would become the first modern Indiana governor to have served on a local school board and would become the second U.S. senator from Indiana to become governor, joining Thomas A. Hendricks, who served in the Senate from 1863-69 before winning the governor’s office in 1872. Several former governors — Republicans Henry Lane in 1861 and Oliver P. Morton in 1867, and Democrats Samuel Ralston in 1922 and Evan Bayh in 1999 — later served in the U.S. Senate.

If he wins in November, Braun told State Affairs/Howey Politics Indiana he intends to name Kelley his chief of staff. Informed and reliable sources said his wife — Jasper businesswoman Maureen — and four children, Ashley, Jason, Jeff and Kristen, make up his “kitchen cabinet.” The couple were high school sweethearts. After Braun, 70, graduated from Jasper High School, he earned degrees from Wabash College and a Master of Business Administration from Harvard University. The couple resisted temptations to go to Wall Street, deciding to return to Jasper, where she opened a downtown business and he developed Meyer Distributing into a national logistics hub. 

In a 2018 social media post during his Senate race, Maureen Braun said that after more than 40 years of marriage, “I know him best.” She added, “Here are the top 10 words I would use to describe him: honest, humble, hard-working, patient, persistent, energetic, visionary, doer, intelligent, and leader. These character descriptions are the same now as they were in high school …”

As far as potential allies in the General Assembly, Braun told State Affairs/Howey Politics Indiana that he had earned then-House Roads and Transportation Committee Chairman Ed Soliday’s trust while working on road projects for the Jasper area. He has also been close to state Sen. Mark Messmer, who is seeking the 8th Congressional District Republican nomination.

Sources close to Braun told State Affairs/Howey Politics Indiana that the senator “is very smart, kind and thoughtful but also knows what he wants to accomplish.” 

They also said he has been consistently underestimated despite a statewide political career where he has defeated two congressmen (Luke Messer and Todd Rokita), a U.S. senator (Joe Donnelly), Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, a former attorney general (Curtis Hill) and two very wealthy businessmen (Doden and Chambers) who spent a combined $24 million to try to defeat him in the primary.

Kelley said Braun has raised more money than any other gubernatorial candidate in a primary. “I’m not sure that a lot of the folks who have spent a lot of their own money on this are going to see a return on that investment,” Kelley said. “I think a lot of them ultimately underestimated Mike Braun’s ability to continue to inspire Hoosiers to fund him, to stand up to these folks that were funding these races so aggressively.”

According to the media monitoring group AdImpact, $38.7 million had been spent on this Republican gubernatorial primary as of Monday. Chambers was the leading advertiser, spending $12.7 million, followed by Doden at $12.2 million. Chambers had outspent Doden by $588,000 on digital platforms.

Braun spent $8.6 million, according to AdImpact. He had seen $12.2 million in ad support when factoring in issue group spending, just behind Chambers and Doden. Hoosier Hope had spent $3.6 million in support of Braun.

Crouch spent $5.2 million, AdImpact reported, and despite having approximately $7 million less in ad support, she led all candidates in digital spending with $705,000, or $64,000 more than Chambers.

Braun focused on immigration, given the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border. He also spoke about lowering the cost of health care. (Two health care company CEOs gave six-figure checks to an opponent.) He talked about education, empowering parents, the economy and being the most entrepreneurial governor. 

Some speculation swirled that Braun’s biggest liability came in the summer of 2020 when he floated implied police immunity legislation, but in this primary race he has the endorsement of two law enforcement groups: the Indiana State Police Alliance and the National Troopers Coalition. 

Braun was the first candidate to endorse Donald Trump and later received his endorsement.

Does Braun plan to weigh in on a lieutenant governor pick or leave it up to the party? “No, we’re gonna have, I think, a recommendation for lieutenant governor, and you’ll probably be hearing that soon provided we get over the finish line tonight,” he said.

Asked whether he’s worried about Micah Beckwith’s lieutenant governor campaign, Braun said, “No, I love competition, love transparency. I think that it’s best for your customers and a business if you compete. And I think it’s the same thing in politics — very similar. It’s an analog that I’ve learned there and applied it to politics. So if he pushes, that’s fine.”

Asked what kind of governor he intends to be, Braun told Howey Politics Indiana in October 2023: “I’ll be able to distill best practices. Look what Mitch Daniels did. He came in 2004, he inherited a budget that was in the red that had been run recently by Democrats. So he had to get the state’s financial cash flowing. And then you look at what he did when he started to address issues. We are the ‘Crossroads of America’ and we weren’t even funding roads the right way. Almost every penny of the fuel tax was being spent on other stuff. He started fixing things that would have been most apparent that needed to be fixed.” 

Asked if he is more of an executive than a legislator, Braun responded, “I feel I’m good at both because legislatively I knew what to get done as a legislator. I passed a unique regional authority bill that helped us down here on a road project we talked about for 40 years in the abstract. To me, if you’re an entrepreneur, you know how to get from here to there.” 

McCormick’s path

Meeting with Democratic nominee Jennifer McCormick in Indianapolis mid-Tuesday afternoon, State Affairs/Howey Politics Indiana asked her what her path to victory is.

“We have a clear path to victory,” she said. “Will it be easy? No. I know what I’m up against. Given where we were coming off the municipals, where we got some good wins in Evansville and Terre Haute but we also got good wins in rural Indiana, where Democrats hadn’t won in 45 years. 

“Based on my travels across the state, I truly believe we are on the correct side of the issues,” she continued. “It’s limits to reproductive freedoms, education, good jobs. People want to talk about issues that impact them on a daily basis. They don’t want to hear the fear and chaos of those national issues that are kind of hanging on the Republican side right now. I hear that across the board.”

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jennifer McCormick. (Credit: Brian Howey)

Asked if her nomination will essentially become a referendum on abortion rights, McCormick said, “That’s exactly right. A vote for me is a vote for that purpose. That’s exactly what this race will be. There’s a clear difference, regardless of who that Republican nominee will be. We saw their answers during the debates, as crazy as they were. 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.”

As for a potential running mate, McCormick said the decision process is underway. “We have a shortlist. We know that clock is ticking,” she said. “We know we want someone who brings a good balance to what my strengths are, someone who brings a lot of resources to the team and makes sure they’re aligned to our values and what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Would she choose a woman or a Republican, given that the General Assembly is dominated by GOP supermajorities? “Maybe. Nothing is off the table,” she said. “I’m looking for the best person regardless of gender.”

Asked who is in her inner circle, she said, “Kelly Wittman is running our campaign and doing an amazing job. She was with us as chief of staff for the Department of Education, so that’s huge. We have an amazing team on the road. Carly Bullard has done an amazing job on the road. My circle or sphere of people I rely on a lot; I’ve got national teams helping with fundraising. [The Democratic Governors Association] has been super-helpful. My family has been very supportive. My husband, Trent, is superintendent of Blue River Schools. My son, Cale, is transitioning out of the military as an officer. He graduated from West Point and was stationed down in San Antonio. And then there’s my sister, my brother and my dad.”

McCormick knows she has a huge challenge in fundraising. She began the year with $209,252 but posted just $128,417 for the first three months, spent $115,245 and had an ending balance of $222,424. She received $250,000 from the Indiana Political Action Committee for Education on April 25, $10,000 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers PAC on April 15, $2,500 from the United Mine Workers, and $1,000 from actress Barbra Streisand.

Braun reported a cash balance of $946,167 on April 15. He received $250,000 from GOPAC Election Fund on April 16, $100,000 from Operating Industries on May 2, and $50,000 from S.R. Walton on April 24.

Update: This story has been updated to include an additional comment from Braun and more recent election results.

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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