Indiana’s gubernatorial race is shaping up to be among the most consequential this year with three contenders vying for the seat instead of the usual two. The race has largely been focused on the handling (or mishandling, depending on who you ask) of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic by Republican Governor Eric Holcomb.
Holcomb, a longtime party insider and career politician, was Mike Pences’s running mate in 2016, but Pence left in June to join the Trump campaign, leaving Holcomb at the top of the ticket. The shortened race left him with a narrower victory than expected, but decisive enough with a 6 point advantage. He turned his focus on business and healthcare, with mixed results.
His business and investing acumen drew money in from international sources, but he immediately began pushing for tax increases — rarely popular among conservatives — and the working class failed to see much of the benefit of the foreign investments. Additionally, his healthcare ideas focused primarily on drug issues, including the opioid crisis, but this too seemed to disproportionately harm the working class and others with its focus on prohibition instead of prevention and treatment. Allegations of a coverup in a worker fatality at an Amazon plant (which he denied) certainly did not help his image. Still, his approval ratings hovered just around 50% — that is, until COVID hit.
Holcomb was among the first of the Republican governors to push for lockdowns of small businesses, churches, and other so-called “non-essential services,” and mask mandates soon followed. However, larger companies, such as Walmart and Target, were permitted to continue operating. Indiana saw a spike in deaths in April, and a major increase in cases in August, performing worse than most states in the region but just about average when compared with most states.
Enter Donald Rainwater, the Libertarian nominee. More conservative than most libertarians, Rainwater is plainly taking aim at Holcomb’s reaction to COVID, arguing that the restrictions went too far and did more harm than good. He argues that the mandates were not only unconstitutional, but that the disproportionately harmed working class Americans, and that they are arbitrary and unevenly applied.
Rainwater is also taking aim at other policies popular among libertarians, such as ending the state income tax for workers while leaving the corporate income tax intact. Currently, nine states do not seize income from workers’ paychecks, and Rainwater is also vowing to lower, if not outright eliminate, property taxes as a means of helping working class citizens recover from the economic downturn the COVID shutdowns have caused. He is currently polling at nearly 25% — well within reach of the race.
Rainwater is hardly Holcomb’s only problem, however. He is also facing Woody Myers, the former health commissioner for the state of Indiana as well as for New York City. Myers hopes to be the first Black governor of Indiana and, as a moderate liberal, he is well positioned to do just that. He was a big name in the HIV/AIDS fight in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but his policies were extreme, to say the least. He was forced to resign from President Ronald Reagan’s task force on the issue due to these ideas, some of which included forcing carriers of the disease onto a government registry. However, he was also supportive of anti-discrimination efforts against carriers of the disease, including having won a challenge against a school board for forbidding a student from attending because he had AIDS. He is running this time around primarily on a platform of education reform, climate change activism, and gun restrictions. He is currently polling at just about 30%.
With both the Democrat and Republican candidates openly running on a large government platform that is openly hostile to personal liberties and small business, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody that Rainwater is within reach of both. Just four months ago, Holcomb was polling as high as 65%, with Myers coming in at 21% and Rainwater barely even registering on the radar. As Holcomb has continued to squeeze the working class, his numbers have fallen like a rock, but because Myers’ policies on COVID are unlikely to be any looser, Rainwater has picked up steam among those most harmed by the rules. If he were to win, he would be the first Libertarian governor in the United States, but by even pushing his way to within 10 points of both candidates he has insured that he will at least make an impact. And if that impact is that both of the other parties are forced to reexamine their anti-working class platforms of corporate cronyism, the impact is almost certain to be a positive one.