Holcomb, associates attacked as too moderate as GOP prepares to nominate candidates

Political mail directly attacking Gov. Eric Holcomb and associated GOP candidates as too moderate has been delivered to delegates in advance of this weekend’s Indiana Republican Party convention, heightening an already looming intra-party showdown.

One mailing calls Secretary of State Holli Sullivan “Holcomb’s puppet” and criticizes her for aligning too closely with the governor, whom the mailing notes vetoed a bill banning transgender girls from K-12 girl sports and imposed an “authoritarian lockdown” during the pandemic.

Sullivan and Holcomb are pictured on the mailing, standing side by side and donning pandemic-protective masks.

A text received Thursday by some delegates and obtained by IBJ also attacked Sullivan and state treasurer candidates Pete Seat and Elise Nieshalla as lacking the necessary conservative credentials. The text says the three candidates “are hand-picked establishment darlings in the back pockets of Holcomb and Co and will do whatever they are told to do. So don’t believe the hype; they are not one of us.”

The missives have raised tensions within the party as 1,800 delegates prepare on Saturday to officially nominate the GOP candidates for secretary of state, state treasurer and state auditor. The convention is expected to test Holcomb’s political influence among the Hoosier Republican faithful as the governor faces backlash from social conservatives over his pandemic response and issues related to transgender athletes.

The convention races for secretary of state and treasurer each feature four candidates, with some having clear ties to Holcomb.

Sullivan was appointed secretary of state by Holcomb last year to complete the term of Connie Lawson, who resigned to focus on her health and family.

The mailing calling Sullivan “Holcomb’s puppet” is labeled as coming from Diego for Indiana, the campaign committee for Sullivan’s convention opponent, Diego Morales. The telephone number listed as the source of the text has a 973 area code but the sender is not immediately identifiable.

Morales, who once worked as an adviser to conservative favorite and then-Gov. Mike Pence, declined to immediately answer questions about his mailings. Reached by phone Friday morning, he said he was busy meeting with delegates at a breakfast.

Sullivan didn’t respond directly to the attacks but issued a statement noting that over the past year “we’ve extended our voter ID law to absentee ballot requests, increased cybersecurity to protect against foreign interference and doubled the number of post-election audits the state conducts each General Election.”

Earlier this year, Sullivan publicly supported the Legislature’s override of Holcomb’s veto of the transgender athlete bill, saying it was needed to protect the integrity of women’s sports.

In March, Holcomb said he vetoed the measure because it fell short of its goal of providing a clear and consistent state policy and was a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist in Indiana.

On Thursday, Holcomb’s office referred questions about the attack mail to party officials.

Joe Elsener, executive director of the Eric Holcomb for Indiana campaign and a GOP delegate, said the governor’s standing with Hoosiers was proven when he won the 2020 election with a “record number of votes … in one of the most difficult election cycles in a generation.”

Elsener said he hopes delegates will vote for a competent candidate for secretary of state that will “ensure election integrity, not against a candidate for a reason that has nothing to do with the duties of the Secretary of State’s Office, and certainly not against a candidate because of the inaccurate statements in this specific piece of mail.”

In the race for treasurer, candidate Pete Seat was communications director for Holcomb when he won his first term as governor in 2016.

Seat and Nieshalla did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

As the attacks fly in both the secretary of state and treasurer races, a third-party political action committee has entered the fray, sending campaign mail in support of Sullivan

At least two pro-Sullivan mailers received by some delegates have been labeled as coming from the Leadership for Indiana PAC, which is registered with the Federal Election Commission.

A website associated with the PAC, leadershipforindiana.com, says it supports principled conservative Republicans.

“We believe Hoosiers should have elected leaders who believe in limited government, lower taxes, fewer regulations, and getting things done,” the website says.

In the first quarter of this year, the PAC listed one donor: Douglas C. Rose, president of Indianapolis-based Irwin R. Rose & Co. Records show he give the PAC $175,000 on March 28.

Sullivan said in a written statement that she does not know Rose.

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