CROOKED LAKE — In what was believed to be the first event where all three Republican candidates for Indiana governor shared the same stage, there were no surprises in dialogue during the Steuben County Lincoln Day Dinner that drew some 270 people to the Steuben County Event Center Wednesday night.
Some have said that the race between Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and business leader Eric Doden was going to end up an ugly battle to attract the MAGA voter in order to win the Republican nomination in May 2024.
If that was what they were expecting on Wednesday night, they most likely went away disappointed because the three stuck to themes that have characterized their political careers over the years.
Sounding much like the man who ran for the U.S. Senate in 2018, defeating incumbent Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly, Braun talked up his life as an entrepreneur who has made his own way and controlled health care of his employees on his terms.
Crouch touted her work championing mental health issues and her experience since 2017 leading four state agencies in the Gov. Eric Holcomb administration, Department of Agriculture, Office of Community & Rural Affairs, Housing & Community Development Authority and Office of Tourism Development.
Doden spoke of economic development issues, calling them family development issues, speaking from his background as former president of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. He also spoke on social issues based on his background growing up in the Baptist church.
In a town hall-like setting that was billed as a fireside chat, each candidate was first given the opportunity to talk about themselves and their stances. That was followed by a set of three questions posed by Steuben County Republican Chairman Rick Michael. The candidates were given advance copies of the questions.
The three perhaps best summed up their visions during final statements they presented Wednesday, excerpted in the following order:
“As governor I refuse to let Indiana become a California, a New York and Illinois or even a Wisconsin. I am running for governor to protect our conservative values, values that say parents will control what’s being taught, values that say we’ll stand shoulder to shoulder with law enforcement. We will live within our means. We will never forget the most vulnerable and we know that together, our brightest days are ahead. So when you leave tonight, hear the message that government is not the answer to every problem, but we are and we will be doing our part to protect the American dream,” Crouch said.
“One person is not going to change the lives of 6.7 million people. That’s why it’s gonna take a team that’s why we’ve been on the road for two years. Because when you put a team together of 1000s of leaders across the state of Indiana, it will be amazing what we get done over the next 10 or 20 years. That’s the power of team and that’s what we’re building. And we’d ask you guys to join our team. Look at our ideas, give us feedback. Help us understand how we can get better, give us new ideas, and then lead with excellence in your local communities,” Doden said.
It’s been interesting. What I treasure most are some of the decisions I made to move back to our hometown, building business steeped in faith, family and community. And I’ll bet the track record down in school board, legislator, senator ought to be a pretty good tutorial to be the CEO of our state. I’ll work just as hard, I’ll produce those results and I’ll make Indiana a true beacon of freedom and opportunity in a place where everybody will move back to people that want to come into our state. You can count on it,” Braun said.
Braun, Jasper, is going to be finishing up his first and only term in the U.S. Senate in order to run for governor. He claimed to have been one of the more effective lawmakers in his time in office, which will end in December 2024. Like his campaign in 2018, he’s in a three-way battle for the nomination.
Crouch, Evansville, has risen through the ranks of being a party activist in Evansville, turning Vanderburgh County blue to red. She has served in county government before being elected to the Indiana Legislature, where she served 12 years. Crouch was elected auditor of state before being tapped to by Holcomb’s running mate in 2016 in a last-minute campaign after Gov. Mike Pence was tapped to be Donald Trump’s running mate.
Doden, Fort Wayne, has gone from law school to the business world, having worked some 20 years in business leadership. He was tapped to served as president of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. by Pence and also worked as CEO of Greater Fort Wayne Inc. His current emphasis is on helping improve rural communities. He’s a native of Butler.
The event also allowed the five candidates for the 3rd District seat in Congress give brief remarks. All who are seeking to replace Rep. Jim Banks, who is running for Braun’s seat in the Senate, were on hand.
Former Rep. Marlin Stutzman sounded very much like the congressman who served until 2016 when he lost the Senate nomination to now-Sen. Todd Young.
If the applause could be used as a gauge, Stutzman had the most support among those present.
Wendy Davis, a former judge in Allen County, was probably the most MAGA of the evening’s speakers, complaining that she’s seen all of the “wokeness” going on from her bench. She also bragged: “I have sentenced Mexican drug dealers.”
Michael Felker, a former guardsman and how worker in the medical devices industry in Warsaw, said he was the blue-collar candidate who would give everyone a seat at the table.
John Kenworthy, Fort Wayne, said he was the only candidate with experience getting federal legislation passed while working for Sens. Dan Coats and now Braun.
State Sen. Andy Zay, who is trying to ride the coattails of Banks one more time — he took Banks’ seat in the state Senate after he left for Washington — said he would be a true conservative leader in the House if elected.
While there were some sprinklings of red meat typical of a Lincoln Day dinner, it was also a celebration of local leaders, past and present.
• Susie Weicht, a former Steuben County Republican chair, was presented the Shining Star award from the Steuben County Republican Women.
• Chris and Suzanne Sanders, son and widow of the late F. Mayo Sanders, Fremont, longtime Republican leader and elected official, received a Congressional commendation from a representative of Banks.
• Karen Shelton, party vice chair, and husband Ken Shelton, a county commissioner, were named honorary secretaries of state by Secretary of State Diego Morales.
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