Gubernatorial candidates spar more with moderator than each other in final debate


By Taylor Wooten

Indiana Business Journal

Onstage Tuesday night at the final debate before the Primary Election, five Republican candidates for Indiana governor sparred with the moderator more frequently than they did with each other.

The debate featured former Secretary of Commerce Brad Chambers, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, former Indiana Economic Development Corp. leader Eric Doden, former Attorney General Curtis Hill and conservative activist Jamie Reitenour.

U.S. Sen. Mike Braun was a late withdrawal from the debate because he was in Washington, D.C., where he was one of 18 senators to vote against a $95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

The debate, moderated by “Indiana Lawmakers” host Jon Schwantes, featured several dysfunctional moments. The group mostly breezed through questions on Indiana-focused issues such as improving the state’s educational attainment and their visions for the Indiana Economic Development Corp., but they objected to more politicized and national issues.

In one instance, Schwantes asked the candidates to raise their hands to indicate yes-or-no answers to questions on the legitimacy of 2020 national election results. Hill interjected that whether or not the 2020 election was stolen is not a “yes-or-no” question.

Schwantes responded, “That’s funny, because I asked it as a yes-or-no question,” and rephrased it as “Is Joe Biden the duly elected President of the United States?” The candidates all raised their hands in agreement.

Similar situations occurred when Schwantes asked whether or not the candidates would have supported the CHIPS and Sciences Act and a recent Indiana Supreme Court decision on abortion. On those questions, candidates hesitated to respond, said they did not understand the question or disagreed with the premise.

Speaking to reporters after the event, Crouch said she wished the moderator “was more in tune with Republican primary voters. Chambers said a number of topics were “overemphasized.” Hill said questions that were presented as simple “yes or no” questions could not be answered that simply.

Cindi Andrews, president of the Indiana Debate Commission, said the questions were selected out of a pool of nearly 200 submitted by 120 voters across the state. Additionally, having five candidates onstage is very challenging and “the candidates themselves challenged the moderator quite a bit,” she said.

Braun, considered the race’s frontrunner, pulled out of the debate unexpectedly Monday evening, saying that he planned to vote ‘no’ on the foreign aid package passed by the U.S. House on Saturday.

A political poll released in March found Braun with a huge lead in the crowded 2024 Republican primary race for Indiana governor—and an even larger number of registered voters who were still undecided.

Throughout the debate, Braun’s absence was mentioned by his competitors sparingly. In his closing remarks, Chambers said the senator “doesn’t show up” and “expects your vote.”

A recording of the full debate is available on the Indiana Debate Commission website.