INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana’s Republican delegates are casting ballots as the time nears to select who will run for state attorney general in November.
The spotlight is on incumbent Indiana Attorney Curtis Hill, who must convince delegates that he deserves a second term despite misconduct allegations.
Hill’s challengers include Todd Rokita, a former member of Congress and two-term Indiana secretary of state, Decatur County Prosecutor Nate Harter and Indianapolis lawyer John Westercamp. The GOP nominee will face the Democrat candidate — former Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel.
In 2018, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and other legislative leaders called for Hill to resign after four women said he groped them during a party. The attorney general received a monthlong suspension in May, ordered by the state Supreme Court, as a result. Hill has denied wrongdoing.
Holcomb declined to endorse any Republican candidate for attorney general. The governor's campaign chairman — Kyle Hupfer, who is also head of Indiana's Republican Party — however, addressed Hill's disciplinary action in May: “Hoosiers would be best served by having a new Attorney General. I have faith in our delegates.”
In an interview with The Associated Press, Hill said it was a statement “that should not have been made.” The allegations, Hill continued, turned the race into one of “personal attacks” and the “politics of personal destruction." Still, Hill said he's confident party delegates will judge him on the work he's done. If he secures the nomination, he also expects his campaign “to join hand in hand" with Holcomb's as November approaches.
“I’m not perfect. No one is,” Hill said. “I believe that people are encouraged to make sure that we look at a person’s record of what they’ve done, of what their service has been, will they do, what they say they will do, and move forward.”
Hill served as Elkhart County prosecutor for 14 years before being elected attorney general in 2016. His experience, Hill contends, has helped him secure "a solid reputation of performance that, realistically, none of my opponents can challenge.” The incumbent champions his work on pro-life and religious freedom issues, as well as challenging the Affordable Care Act, during his tenure as attorney general, promising to keep those efforts alive if re-elected.
Rokita, Hill's highest-profile opponent, argues that Hill has a history of “bad judgment, bad choices and not taking responsibilities," marring him from being Indiana's top lawyer. He wouldn't run against the incumbent, Rokita said, if he didn't think Hill was putting himself above the office, the state and the party.
“There’s so much distraction and controversy because of the situation he has embroiled himself in. You have to point out the issue to these delegates,” Rokita said. “When you're running against an incumbent, fatally flawed politically like Curtis is, we have to show there's a huge problem. If he's the nominee, you're going to get a liberal Democrat as your attorney general in November.”
Entering the race in late May, Rokita — who won statewide elections as secretary of state in 2002 and 2006 before he held a central Indiana congressional seat for eight years — is looking to make a political comeback after running unsuccessfully for governor and U.S. Senate. Known as a contentious conservative, he said he’s challenging Hill’s reelection bid to restore professionalism in the office and to ensure a Republican wins the seat.
While aligned with the other candidates on most issues, Rokita said it's his experience winning two other statewide races that sets him apart, as well as “a solid history” of defending the Second Amendment and religious freedom.
Westercamp said his goal isn't to emphasize his challengers, while Harter said his strategy has been to focus on his own strengths.
Touting his conservative credentials, Westercamp is an attorney at Bose McKinney & Evans in Indianapolis. This is his first bid for public office. Defending constitutional liberties, fighting government overreach and ensuring the attorney general has adequately trained lawyers and transparent finances will be key issues, Westercamp said.
“We need to be sure the office is ready for every legal challenge,” he said. “I've been campaigning a lot longer than the other candidates and have been very consistent that I'm running for the particular purpose of making the office better.”
Harter is in his second term as Decatur County prosecutor, also serving as county party chairman and vice-chair for the 6th Congressional District. He said he would ensure pro-life, pro-Second Amendment and pro-limited government matters are advanced, in addition to a focus on “restoring” internal office functions and relationships.
“I think it's important we nominate someone who has experience practicing law and running an office of lawyers who go to court, and that's something I've gotten,” Harter said. “This race hinges on the idea that we need to nominate someone who is conservative, who comes from the grassroots and understands the party and conservative values across the state. I'm that person — someone who gets things done — and I'm also someone who can actually win with voters in November.”
A state representative from 1999-2003, much of Democratic candidate Weinzapfel’s recent experience comes from time spent in Evansville: He served as mayor of the city from 2004-11 and was chancellor of Ivy Tech Community College in Evansville from 2014-19. He’s a partner at the law firm of Jones Wallace.
Access to health care, settling ongoing litigation against opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma, accountability for charter school funding and increased transparency around nursing homes are among Weinzapfel’s priorities.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Republican convention was held virtually June 18. State delegates — responsible for deciding the attorney general nominee for the party — now have until July 9 to return their ballots. After votes are tallied on July 10, the winner is expected to be announced the same day.
Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.