How a mask mandate might hurt the re-election chances of Indiana's Republican governor

How a mask mandate might hurt the re-election chances of Indiana's Republican governor
Image via Screengrab.

The Associated Press recently reported that Indiana conservatives who are furious with Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb over his statewide mask mandate are cottoning to Libertarian Donald Rainwater as an alternative, which could make this fall's otherwise snoozy race for governor unexpectedly competitive.

Normally, we'd be skeptical of a largely anecdotal report like this one, but a few pieces of evidence are tugging us the other way. One is a poll earlier this month from Change Research on behalf of the local news site Indy Politics that found Holcomb leading Democrat Woody Myers just 36-30, with Rainwater taking 24%. That's an almost impossibly high figure for a third-party candidate, so the numbers should be viewed with great caution, but it does suggest that there could be a real outflow of support to Rainwater.

More concretely, the AP says that Rainwater has enjoyed unexpectedly strong fundraising and will start advertising on cable and radio this week—something Indiana Libertarians haven't done in "many years," according to his campaign manager. Rainwater had just $6,000 in hand as of Aug. 5, but he's reported some major donations in the last few days, capped off by a $100,000 check from hedge fund manager and poker player Bill Perkins. (Perkins' father, also named Bill, was a Democratic assemblyman in New Jersey in the 1970s, though the younger Perkins has mostly given to Libertarian causes.)

Holcomb also seems to be reacting to this rebellion on his right flank, in the worst possible way: Even though coronavirus case counts in the state remain near record highs, the governor just announced the suspension of nearly all restrictions aimed at stemming the pandemic, including allowing restaurants, bars, and gyms to operate at full capacity. Public health experts, unsurprisingly, expressed deep concern over the move.

Holcomb did, however, renew his mask order, which is likely to perpetuate right-wing furor. As Paul Krugman recently put it, opposition to masks has become "a declaration of political allegiance" to Donald Trump, and if there's one thing we know hardcore Republican voters won't tolerate, it's disloyalty to Trump. We'll still want to see further polling from other outfits before concluding there's real movement in the Hoosier State, but this race bears watching.

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