Indiana Republican Establishment Divides Over 2016 Senate Race

Todd Young is raising more money and has a higher public profile, but Eric Holcomb has the backing of many of his colleagues from years of behind-the-scenes work in state politics.

Allies of both Eric Holcomb and Rep. Todd Young said in recent weeks that their second-quarter fundraising reports would be major indicators of their strength as Senate candidates in Indiana. Holcomb, a former Indiana Republican Party chairman and chief aide to retiring Sen. Dan Coats, has already been running for months, while Young hasn't announced a Senate campaign but has been raising money that could be used for one.

Young won the fundraising race by a mile. He brought in more than $1 million from April through June, while Holcomb raised $200,000—a figure that wouldn't stand out in many House primaries. In many primary campaigns, a fundraising disparity like that is the end of the story.

Holcomb's campaign, with its folksy focus on shooting hoops in high school gyms and a smattering of endorsements from state legislators and county party chairs, sometimes has the look of a small-scale operation. But those modest trappings disguise the first-time candidate's key strength: an expansive network of friends and allies who also worked for former Gov. Mitch Daniels, one of Indiana's most popular political figures. When Holcomb kicked off his campaign in the spring, a Bellwether Research poll for Howey Politics Indiana showed fewer than 10 percent of voters knew enough about him to register an opinion. But his name ID among Indiana's political establishment is universal.

And despite Young's ample strengths, Holcomb's campaign remains powered by those deep connections he forged working under Daniels—who built connections as a political staffer before winning the governorship in his first run for political office—as a deputy chief of staff and campaign manager.

"Daniels-world is a pretty large world," said Earl Goode, a former chief of staff to Daniels who has donated to Holcomb's Senate campaign. "They hold Eric in very high regard."¦ The employees that worked very closely with Eric would almost 100 percent be supporting [him]."

That support may sustain Holcomb's campaign even if Young makes a Senate run official. To some party leaders, that's a problem. They fear that a divide between Holcomb and Young, who also has the support of some Republicans in Washington, could sink both of their chances in the GOP primary. Tea-party-backed Rep. Marlin Stutzman has already announced a campaign and vacuumed up support from some influential conservative groups.

"Marlin Stutzman comes from the tea-party wing, Todd and Eric are non-tea party, and you don't want that vote divided up," said one Republican strategist who is supporting Holcomb and has deep ties to the Daniels network. "It makes it a lot more difficult for both Todd and Eric if they're both running."

Though Young has yet to announce a decision on running for Senate, some supporters are already looking to him and his impressive resume. The 42-year-old Marine veteran has an MBA from the University of Chicago and quickly worked his way up to the Ways and Means Committee after he was elected to a swing House seat in 2010. Young's campaign reported raising more than $350,000 in the week after Coats's late-March retirement announcement and then another $1 million in the second quarter, far more than he would need to defend his House seat.

Young also has ties to "Daniels-world." He volunteered for the former governor's campaign in 2003, and allies say Young privately received Daniels's blessing to run for Senate, though Daniels—now the president of Purdue University—has pledged to stay neutral in the race. One Daniels alum, Cam Savage, recently joined Young's political team as the general consultant.

"I think everybody likes Eric, but some of the folks, aside from the staffers who have such a personal friendship and loyalty, think Todd has tremendous amount of gravitas," said one Daniels insider who has donated to Young. "A lot of them really like Todd. They think he's earned his stripes in Congress."

But Holcomb's early entry to the race (he jumped in two days after Coats announced his retirement) gave him a running start securing allies. Many former Daniels staffers jumped on board early and are fiercely loyal to Holcomb, even viewing former colleagues helping Young as defectors from the team.

The people who ran the Indiana Republican Party under Daniels made two recent fundraising invitations for Holcomb, which were obtained by National Journal. Daniels's former deputy chief of staff, Betsy Wiley, and ex-press secretary Jane Jankowski invited supporters to an event at the White River Yacht Club in Indianapolis on June 9. Weeks later, on June 23, Goode, former U.S. Attorney Deborah Daniels (the ex-governor's sister), and one-time Daniels campaign chairman Jim Morris hosted a fundraiser for Holcomb at Meridian Hill Country Club.

Holcomb's campaign donors include Daniels's other former chief of staff, Harry Gonso, senior adviser Mark Lubbers, finance director Brian McGrath, campaign manager Bill Oesterle, legislative director Mike O'Brien, D.C. director Debbie Hohlt, and a half-dozen other members of Daniels's old team. Holcomb's campaign is run by Justin Garrett, who served as political director for Daniels's 2008 reelection campaign. They'll also likely use Daniels's pollster, veteran GOP strategist Christine Matthews of Bellwether Research, according to a source with knowledge of the campaign.

"There's a Beltway perception and there's an on-the-ground reality," said Holcomb campaign spokesman Pete Seat. "[Holcomb] has a statewide network. He didn't need an elected office to get that. He's gotten that because of his hard work for Mitch and for Dan and for the state party."

His support is not universal, though. In May, two former Daniels backers and state GOP chairmen—Al Hubbard and Jim Kittle—penned a letter on Young's behalf asking Indiana Republicans to hold off their endorsements until he made a decision on the race.

"We have a high regard for both announced candidates, Eric Holcomb and Congressman Marlin Stutzman. ... However, one potential candidate clearly stands out," the two wrote. "Todd plans to make a decision about the 2016 U. S. Senate race in the next few weeks. As he weighs his options, we ask you to exercise patience in making a decision regarding your support until he makes a final decision."