Curtis Hill’s entry into GOP governor’s race sparks battle for evangelical conservatives

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Former Indiana attorney general Curtis Hill (IL file photo)

Before former Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill this week turned the GOP battle for governor into a four-way race, U.S. Sen. Mike Braun was widely considered the favorite among the evangelical conservative wing of the party.

But even as he continues to carry baggage from a 2018 groping scandal, Hill is expected to draw some religious conservatives away from Braun in the Republican primary next May.

Micah Clark, executive director of the conservative American Family Association of Indiana, said Hill still holds a lot of sway with conservative voters despite having his law license suspended for 30 days by the Indiana Supreme Court after it found that he inappropriately touched four women at a party in 2018. Hill has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

“They’re likely drawing from a similar base of conservative primary voters,” Clark said of Hill and Braun.

While the groping scandal might deter some from supporting Hill, Clark said he doesn’t see it as having a broad effect.

Clark points to the case of Donald Trump, who was elected in 2016 despite having multiple sexual assault allegations levied against him, and Bill Clinton, who was elected president in 1992 despite former TV journalist Gennifer Flowers saying during his campaign that she had an ongoing affair with the then-Arkansas governor.

“I do think that (groping) issue hurts him more in Indianapolis than anywhere else. But he will have to address it,” Clark said.

“I think the big issue will be if he can raise money to get his message out,” he added.

Hill starts his campaign at a huge fundraising disadvantage. The other three candidates have been fundraising for months and have amassed substantial war chests.

New campaign finance reports show Braun reported raising more than $2.2 million during the first six months of this year, with $4.6 million cash on hand. Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch reported raising $1.1 million so far this year and has $3.8 million in cash on hand, while Fort Wayne businessman Eric Doden raised $1.7 million in the past six months and has $3.8 million cash on hand.

Speculation also continues that a fifth GOP candidate could enter the 2024 race for governor: Brad Chambers, Indiana’s secretary of commerce.

Such a splintered field could make it anyone’s race, especially if Hill is able to successfully pull a large number of conservative evangelicals away from Braun.

Hill was somewhat of a conservative darling before scandal struck.

After being elected attorney general in 2016 election — he received more votes than any other statewide Republican candidate on the ballot — Hill was a regular guest on Fox News programs and conservative talk shows, taking hardline conservative stances on controversial issues like the NFL anthem protests, medical marijuana and needle exchange programs.

But his political career was derailed by the groping scandal. Despite calls for his resignation by Gov. Eric Holcomb, he finished out his first term as attorney general and sought a GOP convention bid for reelection but lost to Todd Rokita. 

Hill largely stayed out of public view until he filed to fill a vacancy in the 2nd congressional district following the death of Rep. Jackie Walorski. Hill finished second behind Rudy Yakym, who had the endorsement of Walorski’s husband.

When Hill launched his gubernatorial bid this week, he played to his conservative base by announcing his candidacy on Fox News and eschewed Indiana media that had aggressively covered the groping scandal.

Despite the scandal, Hill’s impact on the race should not be discounted, some political observers told Indianapolis Business Journal. 

“The fact that he did so well in 2016 means he must be taken seriously,” said Chad Kinsella, political science professor at Ball State University. “However, the damage from 2018 is still fairly recent and will be a fresh issue with a lot of voters. His opponents will likely remind people of it frequently, especially if he does begin to poll well.”

Indiana Democrats quickly denounced Hill’s decision to enter the race and called on the Indiana GOP to join them.

“Hoosiers have not forgotten how Curtis Hill disgraced Indiana and the Attorney General’s office just a few short years ago,” Indiana Democratic Party chair Mike Schmuhl said in a statement. “Indiana was embarrassed on the national stage when Hill groped a legislator and three staffers at a social event — leading to our state having an AG who couldn’t practice law for a time. Democrats were joined by Governor Holcomb in calling for Hill’s resignation, which he never offered to the people of Indiana.”

Through a spokesperson, Indiana Republican Party Chair Kyle Hupfer declined to comment on Hill’s entry into the race.

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