Ex-Indiana schools chief McCormick enters governor’s race

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Indiana Statehouse (IL file photo)

Former Indiana state schools Superintendent Jennifer McCormick launched a 2024 campaign for governor Thursday, taking on the daunting goal of flipping the state’s top office from Republican to Democrat after making the same political switch herself.

McCormick broke with Statehouse Republicans over education policy in the years after her successful 2016 campaign as the GOP candidate for state schools chief. She changed her party affiliation after her term ended in early 2021 and has traveled the state for several months speaking at Democratic and public school advocacy events.

She’s the only publicly active potential Democratic candidate for the 2024 race to replace Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, who can’t seek reelection because of term limits.

Any Democrat will face substantial challenges to capturing the governor’s office. Republicans have dominated the state, winning five straight governor elections since 2004. The last time a Democrat won any statewide race was in 2012.

During an interview ahead of her campaign announcement, McCormick criticized the Republican-controlled Legislature for what she said was a lack of support for traditional public schools and for pushing a national conservative agenda on social issues.

Jennifer McCormick

“Everywhere that I visit, the common thread is they (voters) don’t recognize the out-of-touch, divisive, basically nonsense that’s coming out of the Legislature,” McCormick told The Associated Press. “They expect a leader who’s going to bring common sense back and bipartisanship and really tackle the real problems that we have.”

McCormick released a campaign launch video Thursday in which she denounced Statehouse Republicans for pushing “extreme ideas,” invoking topics such as the statewide abortion ban and the repeal of the state’s handgun permit requirement approved last year, while keeping Indiana’s gasoline taxes among the highest in the country.

Republicans are poised for an expensive fight for their nomination for governor with three candidates in the race: U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and Fort Wayne businessman Eric Doden. They all started the year with campaign bank accounts approaching or exceeding $3 million, while McCormick’s exploratory campaign reported about $40,000 in cash.

“I know what I’m up against.” McCormick said. “I’m very clear-eyed on that and I’m also very committed to securing the resources and the support to win.”

McCormick, 53, of New Castle, was a special education and language arts teacher before becoming an elementary school principal, then superintendent of the Yorktown school district near Muncie ahead of her first political campaign for state superintendent of public instruction.

As a Republican, she defeated Democratic incumbent Glenda Ritz in 2016 after pledging better relationships with Republican Statehouse leaders following numerous policy clashes between Ritz, then-Gov. Mike Pence and top GOP lawmakers.

But McCormick soon faced open disputes with Holcomb and Republican legislators on issues including the use of standardized testing to rate schools and teachers, as well as her support for increased scrutiny of charter schools and private schools that receive taxpayer money through the state’s voucher program.

She decided against seeking reelection and fully broke with Republicans by endorsing several Democrats in the 2020 elections, including gubernatorial candidate Woody Myers, who lost badly to Holcomb.

McCormick’s three-minute announcement video never describes her as a Democrat, but she said was confident she could secure support among party members.

“If there are Democrats out there that are unsure, I just hope that they pay attention,” McCormick said. “I have not made a secret of how I feel on many of these issues.”

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