The Next Indiana Republican National Committeewoman
Governor Mike Pence has made a number of appointments to key party and state leadership positions. We can anticipate that the process surrounding his appointment to succeed Tim Berry as State Auditor and Becky Skillman as National Committeewoman will be as tight-lipped and held as close to the vest as his pick of Berry for state party chairman. That said, while there has been a great deal of coverage and handicapping of potential state auditor selections, there hasn’t been much discussion about his potential pick for Indiana National Republican Committeewoman.
The first challenge that goes along with handicapping Gov. Pence’s future decision is to figure out what motivations will drive the decision. Traditionally this position, along with national committeeman, was used by the party to recognize individuals who have raised significant funds for the party and national Republican causes. In recent history this has not been the case, with the last decade of national committeewomen including Diane Adams from northeast Indiana, activist-turned-pundit Dee Dee Benike, and former lieutenant governor Skillman.
How important is the fundraising angle? One challenge with having a full-time state party chairman is that you have to pay them to be there full-time. While former chairman Eric Holcomb did a great job in terms of reducing overhead at state party, it can be fair to say that his presence on the payroll also introduced some new overhead as well. With Berry serving in a similar full-time role, raising additional funds to cover the cost of the chairman’s compensation becomes an additional burden.
That said, as recent history has shown us fundraising has not been a major factor in making this decision in recent history. So what other factors may come in to play? While he’s not actively campaigning for the job, it is inevitable that as the Pence administration builds up some successes like the last legislative session, talk will turn to him as a potential Presidential candidate. When the time comes for him to consider that move, he would be well-served to have someone on the committee who can help make the case for him with other members of the national committee.
During the process of selecting Berry, sources from the members of the state committee suggested that they had been included far more in the deliberations regarding his final selection than they had previously. That said, only few members of the state committee have been around long enough to experience one let alone more than one of these power transfers and given the ultimate selection came from northeast Indiana where Third District Chair Barb Krisher has been on the the committee as chair or vice chair from northeast Indiana for a very long time might temper the value of that insight. So while they may have some influence on shaping the short list Gov. Pence considers, I don’t think it’s highly likely they will have much influence on his final selection.
Given these criteria, I’ve tried to assess the strengths and weaknesses of different candidate names who have surfaced for Indiana Republican National Committeewoman during the process.
Anne Hathaway – One of the candidates who was mentioned for state chairman, many of the qualities I addressed when we handicapped her potential candidacy for the state chairman role would speak well for her candidacy for this position as well. Given her extensive experience working for the Republican National Committee both as a regional director as well as chief of staff, she is intimately familiar with operations of the organization and the people who have been players at the national level of the organization. She is a known entity but not necessarily someone who has been associated with Pence’s team. In the end that might be the one critical element that would prevent her from moving to the top spot.
Jen Hollowell – Another candidate mentioned in the state chairman handicapping, Hollowell has a number of friends throughout the state that think well of her. Her expeirence has been in running and managing campaigns, and those expereiences probably made her a stronger candidate for state chairman than for national committeewoman. It’s not clear whether she would be a reliable voice for Gov. Pence’s long-term political objectives given her past support for more moderate presidential candidates. That said, she has a strong relationship with potential donors from around the state and they generally speak well of her. If Gov. Pence is looking for someone to help raise money, Hollowell might be the right choice.
Erin Houchin – Houchin’s name hasn’t received much mention in the press but has been rumored to be the choice of of some conservatives who would like to have a more ideological representative from Indiana on the national committee. If you remember former national committeeman Jim Bopp was very active in conservative causes and Houchin, a former one-term district chairman from southeast Indiana, might serve a similar role. Unfortunately for Houchin it’s not clear how she achieves any of the objectives we outlined above for the Pence administration. She has very little name recognition across the state and it’s not clear her former colleagues on the state committee would go to bat for her. I wanted to include her because it’s been mentioned that her name is being advanced in some quarters, but the only way it makes the short list would be if Gov. Pence feels he needs to have someone on board who can speak to these ideological concerns.
Jennifer Ping – Ping’s name comes up because she is plugged in to statewide politics and has served on the state committee for some time. That said, her credentials aren’t as strong as some of the other candidates who are on this list so while her name may get advanced in some quarters it is difficult to see how she gets ahead, she doesn’t seem to hold a significant advantage in any of the areas that might be used for consideration.
Christy Stutzman – Another candidate whose name hasn’t been mentioned in the public press but may be very interested in the position is Congressman Marlin Stutzman’s (R-Howe) wife Christy. The case for a Stutzman candidacy would be a hybrid… it would serve as a link between Stutzman and Pence who historically haven’t been perceived has having a tight relationship and it would bring Rep. Stutzman’s considerable fundraising to bear for the state party given his lack of serious opposition in next year’s primary or general election. Of all the Republican congressional delegation, Stutzman is the most politically active spouse, who has been attending political events with him since he first decided to run. Rep. Stutzman often refers to Christy when discussion political decisions, using “we” when many of his colleagues tend to use the singular “I.” That said, Rep. Stutzman certainly has his own ambitions, and choosing his wife for this role could certainly be perceived by his colleagues as giving him an inside track on the next rung up the ladder. While picking Stutzman for this role could solve some problems for Gov. Pence, it could create a number of new problems for him as well.
Mystery Candidate – In all likelihood Gov. Pence has someone in mind for the position who hasn’t been mentioned above. The most compelling attribute missing from this list of candidates is the often cited “regional balance” criteria. We don’t have a single candidate on the state-wide ticket or in the state committee leadership from northwest Indiana. The Region has been an area where Republicans have tried to make some inroads but with limited success. A candidate from this area in the party leadership would demonstrate that Gov. Pence doesn’t intend to take this part of the state for granted and that they will continue to figure prominently in the party’s outreach efforts. That said, it is hard to identify someone from this part of the state that meets the criteria outlined above.
Do you have a suggestion, favored candidate, or thoughts on any of the potential candidates for the position mentioned above?