By Brian Howey
State Affairs/Howey Politics Indiana
INDIANAPOLIS – As 2023 fades into the epic campaign year of 2024, the “How do you do, this is why I’m running for governor” phase in this unprecedented five-way Indiana Republican primary is drawing to a close.
The campaigns of the frontrunning U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, along with Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, Eric Doden, Brad Chambers and Curtis Hill have been seen in the prism of parades, county fairs, and joint appearances while the self-funded campaigns have been running bio TV ads. Now they will be girding for “contrast” in the final five months before the May primary.
That contrast between Sen. Braun and former Commerce secretary Chambers has the potential of defining this next sequence of the race. Or as Chambers put it in an exclusive 30-minute HPI Interview on Monday, “I’m in this race to grow the economy. That message seems to be resonating. More importantly, the contrast is starting to reveal itself.”
HPI conducted this interview with Chambers, with Obst, campaign manager Huckleby and press secretary Luke Thomas sitting in. It covered the campaign, his design of the LEAP district, and whether Indiana should make an attempt to build stadiums for the Chicago Bears and White Sox in The Region:
Q: You entered the race in August. Walk us through what you’ve accomplished over the last four months.
A: It was a new experience; never done it before. I had no expectations or preconceived notions. I just wanted to engage voters and tell them my background, introduce myself, my vision for Indiana, and why I’m running for governor. I’ve been criss-crossing the state ever since. I’m really finding good reception to my background and my optimistic view of Indiana. I’m not focused on all the bad things. What I am focused on is how to fix the things that are normal and how to make us better, and that’s by growing the economy, right? I believe. That’s why I’m in this race which is to grow the economy. If you have a growing economy you can fix education, support public safety, improve health care and mental health. That message seems to be resonating. And I’m having fun doing it.
Q: You’ve done four or five joint appearances with the other GOP candidates. What have you learned?
A: The rest of them are pretty seasoned, if you will, politicians. They’re pretty prescriptive on how they show up. I’m not. I’m authentic in talking about my background, my passion and aspiration for the state. I’ve been on an upward trajectory in getting comfortable in those formats. More importantly, the contrast is starting to reveal itself.
Q: What is that contrast? What is your contrast with Sen. Braun, for instance? He’s still portraying himself as an outsider.
A: That’s just disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst. I don’t know when you’re in the most exclusive club in the country, the U.S. Senate, how you’re an outsider. I happen to believe the voters of Indiana are smart and they’ll figure things out. So the voters will decide whether he’s an outsider or not. What does an outsider mean? To me it means I’ve never been in politics before. I’ve never run for public office. Truthfully stated I’m the only one in the race who has never run for public office before. I’m the only one in this race that started a business from zero and has built it consistently for 40 years. I seem to be the only candidate in the race focused on growing the economy, lifting the people up, taking the proceeds of a growing economy to address the needs of government to improve quality of life. So there are a number of contrasts evolving between me, my background and my focus.
Q: How does the Boone County LEAP district play into this race, because it’s taking on a political sheen. Talk about your role in this and how you believe it will play out?
A: I think it’s a clear distinction between politicians and someone who is viewing and preparing to make bold, confident decisions for the good of the state. That was a bold, confident decision for the good of the state. That’s a 5-, 10-, 15-, 20-year decision while politicians they make decisions in three-year increments because it’s the election cycle. The fact that they are all criticizing that decision I think is a really good contrast. It certainly separates me as being a bold, confident decision-maker who’s doing what’s best for Indiana versus someone who is taking a poll to decide what decisions to make. That’s not the way I’d run state government. I believe Indiana has this great product and we have to go get the economy we want, not just accept an economy that shows up. LEAP is an investment of going and getting the economy we want. When I decided to launch into LEAP – leap into LEAP – I studied the globe. I studied the U.S., I studied what our competitors are doing in North Carolina, Arizona, Ohio, Texas and China. China has been doing LEAP districts for 40 years. North Carolina launched one 50 years ago. (Gov.) Doug Ducey started one in Arizona 10 years ago after the great financial crisis. We’re behind. Indiana is this great product but we’ve got to go play to win. We have to play economic offense. LEAP is an investment playing economic offense. I like to say we would be pouring concrete, putting up steel and hiring high wage jobs for Intel if LEAP were there a year and a half ago or two years ago. We were super competitive for Intel and we missed it because we weren’t ready. LEAP is an investment.
Q: Will there be similar opportunities or dilemmas with the coming automakers’ strategy to convert from the internal combustion engine to electric vehicles? Ohio and Michigan are building new EV battery factories. There’s one coming to New Carlisle.
A: My north star was raising wages in Indiana and making sure Indiana gets more than its fair share of global trade. It should. We have great universities, great people, great workforce and location. We have stable government. We’ve got low taxation. We have a 100-year history of building things in advanced manufacturing. There’s a trillion dollars coming out of China. There are hundreds of billions of dollars circulating in the country due to energy transition. Indiana should get more than its fair share. I set out to do that. During my term as secretary of commerce not only did we break every economic development record in state history, we brought in new industry: EV batteries. They had never been here before. Mike Braun, in another central contrast, voted against the CHIPS Act. I happened to bring in six companies that were relying on the CHIPS Act, on Todd Young’s vote for the CHIPS Act.
Q: So Odon, Ind., is becoming a semi-conductor hub.
A: LEAP and Lafayette are also going to be semi-conductor opportunities. Crane Naval Center is an incredible asset for the state. But remember, we had no semi-conductors until we launched that task force as secretary of commerce. I am future-focused, determined to grow the economy with high-wage jobs and keep our college kids here, because they are making economic decisions when they graduate from Purdue, Ball State and Rose-Hulman. They are looking at that $75,000 they spent on their education and they say, “I need a return on investment. Where am I going to go, Colorado? Or Indiana?” High wage jobs not only lift Hoosiers up but keeps our college kids here and grows our population. Population growth turns into workforce and workforce turns into community growth. So another contrast with Sen. Braun is he voted against the CHIPS Act and I brought in six companies on the back of it.
Q: Walk me though what we should be looking for from the Chambers campaign between now and May.
A: I think we’ve built a serious campaign in a short period of time, right at four months since I announced. I announced because I looked under the hood of this great state and my saying is “Indiana is great but it can be even better.” I want to play economic offense to lift people up and that message seems to be resonating. Fundraising, if you believe that’s a version of a poll, is very very strong. People are supporting this campaign. Obviously I’m very invested. It means a lot that people are investing in us and believing this non-politician/businessman’s approach. We’ve been rolling policy out and there’s more to come. I’m clear-eyed that we’re up against a long-time politician with a lot of name ID. The only thing I can control is my message and our hard work. Our message has been well-received.
Q: You seeded your campaign $5 million, and you’re leading in large donations over the last month or so. Do you expect to write another $5 million check between now and the primary?
A: I love the fact we have enormous momentum on fundraising because that means that people are buying the mission. I invested significantly because I’m not a career politician and I need to establish name ID. The fact that people are investing right alongside me means that message is attracting voters and investment. We’re in it to win it.