Knowing the surgeon general—Indiana postpones primary—Gov. to address the state today

Buckle up for an even longer primary.

By Adam Wren and design by Kris Davidson

TOTAL HOOSIERS TESTED FOR CORONAVIRUS: 1,494

TOTAL POSITIIVE CASES: 201*

TOTAL DEATHS: 6

DAYS UNTIL INDIANA’S PRIMARY: 71

*Results from ISDH and results submitted by private laboratories.

BREAKING: Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb will address the state on the latest developments in slowing the spread of COVID-19 today. The live address will begin at noon. You can stream here.

THE DOCTOR IS IN: Has the U.S. Surgeon General Caught a Bad Case of Trumpism?

My new piece over the weekend for The Daily Beast:

In normal times, the average American’s experience with the U.S. surgeon general amounts to reading the warnings on a packet of cigarettes or a bottle of alcohol. But in the age of the novel coronavirus, Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams has become a regular presence in living rooms—and, recently, not always the most reassuring one.

On March 8, the first time many Americans saw Adams, the 45-year-old sat for an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. Adams, who holds the rank of vice admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and oversees 6,500 public health officers, explained the nature of coronavirus to Tapper as if he was one of his anesthesiology patients. But as Tapper pressed on to more political ground—whether the age of former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and President Donald Trump meant they should stop campaigning in person—Adams careened off message.

“Speaking of being at risk, the president, he sleeps less than I do, and he’s healthier than what I am,” responded Adams, 46, who cuts a trim and athletic figure and runs 5Ks.

His claim did not pass the eye test.

Back in Indiana, where Adams served as public health commissioner under then-Gov. Mike Pence during some of the state’s most tumultuous health crises, at least one former aide arched his eyebrow when he watched the interview, texting Adams to see if he was serious.

He was.

“He realized that it came off poorly, but the president’s doctor came out and said he’s on one medication,” said the friend and former aide, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak on behalf of the surgeon general. “Adams is on six medications for chronic conditions—pre-diabetes, asthma, for example. From just a burden of chronic disease standpoint, it was accurate.”

....

Has Trumpism infected his own surgeon general’s brain?

“In a few sentences, that took away so much of his credibility,” said Leslie Dach, who helped run Barack Obama’s response to the Ebola crisis while at the Department of Health and Human Services. “It shows how much this president can corrupt the integrity of people when they choose to be part of his political strategy instead of doing the job they took an oath to do. To be up there in that uniform is a disgrace.”

Read more here.

INDIANA DELAYS ITS PRIMARY

Indiana became the seventh state to postpone its primary Friday in the wake of the novel coronavirus. Gov. Eric Holcomb, Secretary of State Connie Lawson, Republican Party Chair Kyle Hupfer and Democratic Party Chair John Zody argued for caution in a Statehouse press conference, pushing the date back from May 5 to June 2.

“The right of citizens to elect their leaders in a free and open election is one of the cornerstones of America. In order to balance that right with the safety of county employees, poll workers and voters, delaying Indiana’s primary election is the right move as we continue to do all we can to protect Hoosiers’ health,” said Gov. Holcomb.

THE REAX:

Democratic Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett:

“In the face of an unprecedented public health emergency, Gov. Eric Holcomb and Secretary of State Connie Lawson, with the support of both political parties, are making the right call by pushing back our primary election to June 2. I also support the option of allowing all voters to use mail-in absentee ballots for the primary election to preserve citizens' rights while protecting Hoosiers."

Republican Kelly Mitchell, a candidate for Indiana's 5th Congressional District:

“I applaud Governor Holcomb and Secretary of State Connie Lawson on working out an agreement that not only protects the fairness of our election process, but puts the health and safety of Hoosiers first. While the election date may have changed, one thing has not, my commitment to earn the vote of every 5th district Hoosier and win the Republican nomination in June 2nd.”

Republican House Speaker Todd Huston:

“In the face of an unprecedented public health emergency, Gov. Eric Holcomb and Secretary of State Connie Lawson, with the support of both political parties, are making the right call by pushing back our primary election to June 2. I also support the option of allowing all voters to use mail-in absentee ballots for the primary election to preserve citizens' rights while protecting Hoosiers.”

Good morning, and welcome to IMPORTANTVILLE. What day is it? They all bleed together now. It feels unessential to be writing about politics in the age of the novel coronavirus. And yet: Documenting how our elected leaders—and aspiring elected leaders—respond to a crisis like this is more essential than ever.

FOCUS ON THE FITH

Carl Brizzi, a candidate for the 5th District, has a coronavirus problem.

On Thursday, he became the first and—by my reporting—only Indiana candidate to fundraise off the pandemic. Nationally, I haven’t been able to find another example of a candidate using the coronavirus to raise money.

It’s a stunning move, given that National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer warned Republicans recently against fundraising off the virus.

But that’s not his only problem.

His response over the last week has been erratic, as he careened from saying the media was overreacting to saying that “China is to blame.” Here, a timeline:

MARCH 11: “Overreacting is actually what the progressive elites want. Overreacting hurts the President.”

MARCH 12: “Can’t decide what’s more dangerous the coronavirus or Democratic hypocrisy.”

MARCH 12: “The left wing media attacks every single thing Trump does. They’ve acted as willing co-conspirators along with Schiff and others in an attempt to undermine his every move. The reporting on the coronavirus is just another example of exploiting a situation in an attempt to undermine Trump. The hatred they have for our President is so beyond deranged that they are gleeful about the economic demise.”

MARCH 14:Everyone be prepared to hunker down for a bit.”

MARCH 17: “I don’t want to do anything that puts Hoosiers at risk. As such, I am calling for the postponement of Indiana's May 5th primary.”

MYERS’ MOMENT?

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Woody Myers has a new urgency about him these days. You can hear it in his voice.

On Tuesday, hours before the presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee would hold a conference call with Indiana reporters to criticize the state’s slow reaction to the threat of the coronavirus, I could hear it. He seemed more lively. The sentences came more quickly. Since he announced that he would run to challenge popular incumbent Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb last year, Myers has run what you could generously describe as a lethargic campaign. He has struggled to fundraise. He hasn’t barnstormed Indiana. And he’s grasped to find some big, bold proposals to garner the kind of earned media he’ll need to raise his profile and defeat Holcomb.

How would you grade Governor Eric Holcomb’s response so far?
I believe that the administration could have done much more, much faster. I think that he has been far more reactive than proactive. This was a crisis. It’s unlike any that has befallen us in recent memory. I believe strongly that the role of the governor is to exert in all dimensions and that includes healthcare or public health. I don’t think that we’ve done a good job. The governor has left far more questions open than he’s been able to answer.

Read more here.

IMPORTANTVILLE READS

Me, Politico Magazine: “What I Learned About Coronavirus From Binge-watching 10 Hours of Virus Movies

On the first weekend of our national emergency, I self-quarantined inside my apartment. I socially distanced from hundreds of St. Patrick’s Day revelers who crowded inside a white party tent and listened to a blaring Bon Jovi cover band outside the Irish pub across the street below. Then, I binge-watched nearly 10 hours of virus entertainment, from 1995’s Outbreak to 2019’s The Hot Zone.

While I didn’t emerge as a postdoc epidemiologist, the lessons I took away, hidden in plain sight all these years, would be valuable to any member of the White House's coronavirus task force. It’s all there, from Contagion’s advocacy for social distancing to Outbreak and Hot Zone’s depictions of how interagency squabbling can slow responses. Even the epigraph of Outbreak, from the Nobel laureate and bacteriologist Joshua Lederberg, should have focused us on the gravity of a pandemic earlier: “The single biggest threat to man’s continued dominance on the planet is the virus.”

That’s all for today. Thank you for reading. Stay healthy.

Will coronavirus reshape the 5th CD race?

Sponsored: This newsletter is presented by the Mitch Daniels Leadership Foundation.

SPONSORED: The Mitch Daniels Leadership Foundation is looking for its next class of Fellows. Applications will be accepted from every part of the state. Details and the application are here.

By Adam Wren and design by Kris Davidson

The coronavirus could reshape Indiana’s hotly contested 5th Congressional District race.

Indiana Treasurer Kelly Mitchell, a Republican candidate, will announce tomorrow a new approach to campaigning down the homestretch of the primary: The candidate will hold a virtual town hall every week until Election Day on May 5.

Mitchell had planned two business meet and greets and a Boone County cocktail hour, which have been canceled so far.

Mitchell will still plan to attend Lincoln Day dinners and other in-person events, according to a spokesperson, but this virtual approach “will allow voters who don’t want to attend these events an opportunity to interact with Kelly from the safety of their home.”

“The health and safety of Hoosiers is important to me,” Mitchell will say in a statement tomorrow. “We are launching this townhall series to give 5th district voters a voice. Our goal is to engage voters and give them the opportunity to ask questions, hear my platform, and learn why I am the best candidate to represent them in Congress. I encourage everyone to share our townhall information with friends and family, to take part in the primary process, and most importantly, stay safe.”

The first Mitchell virtual townhall date is Wednesday, March 18, from 7-8 p.m.

“Our campaign is actively monitoring the situation,” said Republican Carl Brizzi. “Overreacting is actually what the progressive elites want. Overreacting hurts the President. We will make day to day decisions in the best interests of public health and not use this epidemic to politically grandstand.”

Meanwhile, Republican Beth Henderson’s “On the Trail-er Tour” is still on, according to a spokesperson. “We are following both the direction given by the Indiana State Department of Health and how national and state level campaigns are being handled,” said Rachael Coverdale, a spokesperson for the campaign. “We will adjust accordingly.”  

Representatives from other Republican and Democratic campaigns in the district were not immediately available for comment.

What's next for Pete Buttigieg?

In his own words, here are six times Pete Buttigieg has pondered his future on the campaign trail these last few years.

By Adam Wren and design by Kris Davidson

Now that he’s out of the presidential race, speculation about what Pete Buttigieg will do next is circulating through the ether. In the short term, back in South Bend, he’ll gather with staffers tonight.

In the long term: Will he be interested in a cabinet spot? Could he run for governor in Indiana? Does he want to run for Senate? Will he write another book?

Here are six times the former South Bend Mayor has mused about his future over the last two years. (Editorial note: Unlinked answers are from original interviews).

On whether there’s a cabinet position that interests him:

“Sure, but I don’t think I should name them right now.”

On an Indiana gubernatorial race:

We’ve got our sights set on exactly one office. My goal is not to be holding some office. My goal is to offer what I have to really set the country in a different direction. Indiana needs a lot of changes too, but it’s a very different than what I believe our country needs and what I think I can offer in the presidential race.

On whether he feels a responsibility to help Indiana Democrats back home after his national success:

Yeah. One thing that happened starting a couple of years ago when I began, before things really took off nationally, but when I began to have more of a national presence was it put me in a position to help, for example, encourage great speakers to be part of our St. Joe County dinner and other things for party building. Certainly in the same way when it comes to the Indiana state party. Obviously, I care a lot about the party doing well. I think we've got a lot of great leaders, including some newer emerging leaders in the party and want to make sure I'm doing my part and using my visibility as a way to support my home state party.

On his path to office in Indiana after the 2018 Midterms as a Democrat:

It complicates any path for me in Indiana more than what was already the case.

On whether South Bend will stay home:

I certainly feel like South Bend will always be home. You never know what the future holds. But one of the best things that happened in my life was reconnecting with my hometown when I moved back. In many ways it's proven to be symbolic as well as literal home of the campaign effort too. So we hope obviously that I will be living and working in Washington after the election, but always going to have that relationship with South Bend.

On whether he'd write another book:

Oh yeah, I hope to, I love writing. And yeah, I don't know what I'd write next. I don't think I'm talented enough to do fiction. If I were, I would probably just be a novelist instead, because I think it's one of the highest forms of what somebody can do....I could write a book about any number of things, I guess. Bus tours. I love the idea of just writing up portraits of people that that I've encountered on the trail, or you know, back in South Bend, too. One of my favorite things about the book was that South Bend really became the main character, one of the main characters in the book. I could do a whole book on waste water.

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