By Mary Beth Schneider
INDIANAPOLIS—One of my favorite songs by Mary Chapin Carpenter notes: “The stars might lie, but the numbers never do.”
Democrats hoping to win back the governor’s office after having been shut out since 2004 may tell themselves that somehow, some way, the stars will align and voters will decide they’re ready for a change.
But the numbers tell me that, at least so far, they’re dreaming.
Mary Beth Schneider
In campaign finance reports filed Wednesday, Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb—this time seeking election not as an unknown but with a record of accomplishments—reported raising nearly $2 million between July 1 and Dec. 31 of last year. He spent about $770,000 and, combined with funds he had raised earlier, starts this election year with about $7.25 million in campaign funds.
In the last six months alone, he’s pulled in about $150,000 from corporations and—unusual for a Republican—$20,000 from labor unions
The three Democrats who have been seeking to challenge Holcomb have, by comparison, pocket change.
Dr. Woody Myers, the former state health commissioner, reported raising $180,000, but spent about $178,000. His cash-on-hand? $1,886.15.
Most of us have more than that in our checking accounts.
Myers’s numbers look even worse when you see that his campaign owes him about $62,400 to repay loans he’s made to himself. And much of his money came from people who can’t even vote for him. About two of every three checks that came in for Myers came from out-of-state residents. Myers said he made a “conscious decision not to solicit donations from larger Indiana donors” until after the November 2019 elections.
In contrast, about 80 percent of Holcomb’s individual contributors live in Indiana, according to a tally of Holcomb’s campaign report and that of his political action committee, Team Holcomb, by the Indiana Republican Party.
Businessman Josh Owens raised less than $84,000, and spent about $68,000, leaving him only about $16,000. At least he doesn’t owe any money.
State Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, raised about $61,000; spent about $30,000 and had about $30,000 in cash on hand – more than Myers and Owens combined.
Yet he dropped out of the race earlier this month.
Talking to me Thursday as he headed into the Senate—the chamber he now hopes to be re-elected to for another four-year term—I asked Melton if he dropped out because of the money.
“Yeah,” he said.
But he focused less on the dollar amounts, and more on the time it takes to raise those dollars.
“It takes a lot of time day-to-day, outside of just campaigning and traveling around the state, that I found it very difficult to devote that amount of time.”
It affected his day job, working for the Northern Indiana Public Service Co. utility, and his family life as a father of four.
“It was a difficult summer. I missed a couple football games, I missed a band performance and that was really weighing on me,” he said.
Besides, he said he was “seeing a trend, in terms of not hitting the internal numbers we were setting” for themselves as goals, Melton said.
He said there were “a lot of folks that were supportive, a lot of folks that didn’t want to get involved in a primary and a lot of folks that felt if this were a different time, like 2024, they’d be more receptive.”
Melton said he doesn’t regret seeking the nomination, which he believes he would have won in May. He learned a lot about Indiana, he said, and about problems in rural areas that he says mirror some of the challenges in the urban areas like his hometown. And he doesn’t rule out trying again in 2024.
Holcomb, meanwhile, isn’t coasting, having raised at least another $10,000 in a single check this week.
“We won’t let up the entire campaign,” said Kyle Hupfer, chairman of the Indiana Republican Party.
Democrats have pulled out some surprise victories before, but never against such steep odds in a high profile race like that for governor. And, yes, they likely will make some gains in legislative seats, especially in the House where they just need one more district to be out of the purgatory of super-minority status.
But they will need a national blue wave to help them, and right now that shows no signs of even getting Holcomb’s shoes wet, much less submerging him.
Mary Beth Schneider is an editor at TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalists.