By John Celock
Indiana voters are likely to see another close gubernatorial race as a new poll shows this year’s candidates separated by one percentage point.
A Monmouth University Poll released Wednesday shows Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) narrowly leading former state House Speaker John Gregg (D) 42 percent to 41 percent in the race to succeed Gov. Mike Pence (R). State GOP leaders tapped Holcomb earlier this month to run after Pence departed the gubernatorial race to become Donald Trump’s running mate for vice president.
The race is Gregg’s second go-round in gubernatorial politics, after his 49 percent to 46 percent defeat by Pence in the 2012 election.
The close poll and switch in to the gubernatorial race continue what has been a year of change for Holcomb, a former state Republican Party chairman. Holcomb departed the race for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate early this year after he failed to gain traction in the three-way race.
Holcomb was then tapped by Pence in March to succeed former Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann (R), who resigned to seek a college presidency following differences with Pence. As lieutenant governor Holcomb controls the state’s agriculture, housing, community development, rural affairs, defense development and tourism agencies, along with chairing a counterterrorism panel and presiding over the state Senate.
Holcomb was picked by the state Republican Party to take Pence’s place on the top of the ticket and tapped state Auditor Suzanne Crouch as his running mate. Gregg’s running mate is state Rep. Christina Hale.
The gubernatorial switch comes amid other switches in Indiana races. Last month state Democrats picked former U.S. Evan Bayh as the new nominee in the U.S. Senate to succeed retiring Sen. Dan Coats (R). Bayh replaced former U.S. Rep. Baron Hill in the Senate race against U.S. Rep. Todd Young. The Monmouth Poll showed Bayh leading Hill 48 percent to 41 percent.
Bayh entered the race as one of the most well known figures in Indiana politics having served two terms in the Senate and two terms as the state’s governor. Bayh’s father, Birch, represented Indiana for three terms in the U.S. Senate.
Both Bayhs and Coats and Coats’ political mentor, former Vice President Dan Quayle, have traded the Senate seat amongst themselves dating back to Birch Bayh’s first election in 1962. Bayh was defeated in 1980 by Quayle, who had employed Coats in his congressional office. Coats succeeded Quayle in Congress that same year. Following Quayle’s resignation to become vice president in 1989, then Gov. Robert Orr (R) appointed Coats to the Senate seat in his final days in office before he was succeeded by Evan Bayh. Coats retired from the Senate in 1998 where he was succeeded by Bayh, who was long thought to be eyeing the Senate seat after being term limited out of the governor’s mansion in 1996.
Coats made a Senate comeback in 2010 after Bayh announced he would not seek a third Senate term. Bayh then announced this summer that he was seeking a surprise political comeback to succeed Coats. In addition, Bayh has toyed with seeking a return to the governorship, while in 1996 Quayle’s wife, Marilyn, was mentioned as a potential gubernatorial candidate to succeed Bayh.