“I’ve done a lot of polling on Republicans in Indiana, and there’s dissatisfaction with the dysfunction of government. ... Republican primary voters oppose discrimination, and they favor expanding the state’s civil rights protections,” Oesterle told National Journal in an interview last Thursday. Oesterle said plans to run TV ads highlighting Holcomb’s “inclusive approach” on LGBT issues and immigration reform, to contrast his better-known and better-funded opponents, Reps. Marlin Stutzman and Todd Young.
Oesterle argues that Young and Stutzman leave an opening for a candidate with a more-centrist approach on social issues—one his business alliance could get behind.
“The business community in Indiana has a much more pragmatic approach; they are not content to see the debate be dragged out into the sort of extreme social agendas,” said Oesterle. “There is going to be a tremendous opportunity to go out and raise money to support candidates like Eric.”
Money, at this point, is critical for the Holcomb campaign. Despite his deep roots in the state’s political community—he served as former Gov. Mitch Daniels’s chief of staff and, most recently, as state director to Coats before his retirement—he has raised less than $500,000 since launching in March. His opponents have each raised more than $1 million, on top of what was already in their House campaign accounts.
But Oesterle’s focus on social issues is a bit unusual in a GOP primary where conservatives dominate. Most Indiana Republicans backed Pence in his advocacy for Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Young, a former Marine who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, ran TV ads during the first GOP presidential debate touting his support for “protect[ing] the unborn.” Despite being one of just a handful of Republicans who voted to reopen the government in 2013, this fall, he supported conservatives’ effort to defund Planned Parenthood by voting against a continuing resolution to keep the government open.
Stutzman, who has the backing of well-funded conservative groups like the Club for Growth, has also doubled down on his appeal to the party’s far right. Though his campaign initially rolled out a team of operatives with diverse Republican backgrounds, he recently replaced his top aides with the local firm Mark It Red, which worked with him on his House campaigns.
“The strategy for Holcomb has to be that the far right is split between the two,” said Andrew Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics. “The question is, how much of a block is it?”
“In the past, I think it would have been enough,” said Downs. “It’s maybe not as good of a strategy as it could have been a few years ago.”
Holcomb, until now, hasn't given many specifics about his positions on social issues. He still hasn't said whether he supports expanding legal protections for sexual orientation, like Oesterle and his business coalition have sought.