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Despite Indiana’s strong record of women second-in-command, they have never held its highest office | Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS – Women have never held Indiana’s highest offices, but their streak as the state’s second-in-command appears to be strengthening heading into the fall elections.

Indiana is one of 18 states that has never elected a woman governor, according to the Rutgers Center for American Women in Politics, even though four of the state’s last five lieutenant governors have been women.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jennifer McCormick will face an uphill battle against U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, who soundly defeated Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch in last week’s competitive and expensive Republican gubernatorial primary.

The day after her victory, Braun announced state Rep. Julie McGuire as her choice for lieutenant governor. If party delegates endorse her, McGuire will become Indiana’s latest No. 2 woman.

“Braun is likely to be the next governor; McGuire’s election continues that legacy,” said Laura Merrifield Wilson, a political science professor at the University of Indianapolis. “Always lieutenant governor, that is a woman. But she was never a governor.”

Just two years ago, McGuire unseated Republican John Jacob, who angered members of his party in part by repeatedly pushing for an outright ban on abortion. Indiana law allows abortions only in rare and limited circumstances.

Running with a woman on his ticket also gives Braun “diversity credence,” Wilson said, as well as partial credibility against potential attacks from McCormick, his Democratic opponent. But it does little to win votes in November, Wilson said.

Influential Republicans have begun to line up behind Braun and his pick, although McGuire faces an unusual campaign for lieutenant governor from a conservative Noblesville pastor ahead of the June 15 Republican convention. Delegates usually opt for the election of the gubernatorial candidate.

As a strongly conservative legislator, McGuire’s political record shows a focus on education. Braun, who moved into national politics in 2018, likely chose McGuire because of her recent legislative experience and her connections on the floor, Wilson said.

The lieutenant governor has little constitutional power but is first in the line of succession. The lieutenant governor oversees four state agencies and ceremonially presides over the state Senate.

Kathy Davis was the first woman to hold the position. Democratic Gov. Joe Kernan, who stepped down as lieutenant governor after her predecessor died in office, appointed her in 2003.

Davis was on Kernan’s ticket in 2004 when they lost to Republican Mitch Daniels and his running mate Becky Skillman. Skillman considered running for governor at the end of Daniels’ second term, but she withdrew citing “minor health issues” at the time.

“Once I said I wouldn’t do it, I felt very at peace,” Skillman told The Journal Gazette in 2019. “My saddest moment was that I could have disappointed a lot of women.”

Skillman’s departure left a clear path to Mike Pence’s 2012 gubernatorial nomination alongside Sue Ellspermann. But she resigned before the end of his first term, and Pence appointed Eric Holcomb to the position of lieutenant governor. Holcomb succeeded Pence and is completing his second and final term in the governor’s office.

Crouch’s run for governor this year is possibly the closest Indiana has come to putting a woman in the state’s highest office. She was considered the likely second runner-up throughout her career thanks to her statewide name recognition and fundraising.

But in a crowded field, Crouch finished 18 points behind Braun.

Although she presented herself as a political outsider, Crouch relied on her decades-long career in public office, including two terms in the Holcomb administration. She rarely invoked her gender in her candidacy.

Crouch said in a recent interview that she has seen the visibility of women in government fluctuate. She became auditor in 2014 and women held the majority of elected offices statewide for the next eight years.

But she noted that there are still meetings where she is the only woman in the room and that about a quarter of Indiana lawmakers are women.

“People would be better served if our government reflected our population,” he told The Associated Press ahead of Tuesday’s primary.

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