History Suggests Possible Pence Primary Challenge Faces Long Odds
Bob Thomas (WIBC.com file photo)
Governor Pence will formally announce his reelection bid next month. He could become just the second Indiana governor to face a primary challenge.
Fort Wayne car dealer Bob Thomas has said he'll decide in July whether to take Pence on in the Republican primary. And Bill Oesterle, who managed Governor Mitch Daniels' first campaign, resigned as Angie's List CEO last month, saying he'd look at either helping candidates or running for office himself.
Both Thomas and Oesterle have slammed Pence for supporting the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act, while some conservative backers have blasted the governor for supporting a follow-up law aimed at defusing charges that RFRA legalized discrimination.
Despite the RFRA blowback, IPFW political scientist Andy Downs says a challenger would be hard pressed to break Pence's hold on conservative voters, and will likely need crossover votes to win. With Democrats facing a contested primary of their own, and independents typically reluctant to embrace a party label, Downs says that pool of voters could be too small.
But Downs says a multicandidate primary could create enough of a split between Pence and a conservative challenger to give a third candidate a path to a plurality.
A gubernatorial campaign would be Thomas's second primary challenge to a Republican incumbent. In 2010, he lost to Third District Congressman Mark Souder by 13 points, though Thomas and two other challengers denied Souder a majority.
Downs says Thomas will need an experienced political team to help him make the transition from the salesmanship that sells cars to the version which sells candidates to voters.
Indiana began holding primaries for governor in 1976, but only one governor, Robert Orr in 1984, had to dispose of a primary opponent. He trounced former state treasurer John Snyder by 42 points.
But eight states have ousted governors in primaries since then, including Hawaii last year. A ninth governor, Utah's Olene Walker, was denied a chance at renomination at the state party convention.