Club for Growth targets Mitch Daniels—Braun fundraising scoop—Pence to headline Gridiron dinner
Plus: Meet the man who chronicled Daniels' time at Purdue University
FIRST IN IMPORTANTVILLE: Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Braun raised another $250,000 between announcing his haul of $2.9 million and the start of the Indiana General Assembly session on January 9, after which fundraising is prohibited until the end of the session. The extra amount brings his cash on hand above $3 million. The campaigns of fellow Republican candidates Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and Fort Wayne businessman Eric Doden declined to share their additional fundraising figures for that same time period with IMPORTANTVILLE. Last week, Crouch announced she had $3.1 million, while Doden had $2.8 million in the bank.
The influential conservative Club for Growth is trying to keep former two-term governor Mitch Daniels out of Indiana’s open Senate race in 2024, airing a new five-figure ad on Sunday statewide that says the retired Purdue University president is “not the right guy for Indiana anymore.”
The news comes as the Club for Growth has said it is leaning toward backing Rep. Jim Banks, who is also weighing a Senate bid.
BACKSTORY: David McIntosh, president of Club for Growth Action, is a former Indiana congressman who lost a 2000 gubernatorial bid to Democrat Frank O’Bannon by 15 points, and has long been crossways with Daniels, according to Hoosier Republican insiders. “So,” an Indiana Republican texted me Thursday night, “do you think David McIntosh has been waiting to send that ad since 2004?”
In a brief message to IMPORTANTVILLE, Daniels declined to comment on the ad. Mark Lubbers, his longtime confidant and adviser, was less reserved in his response—one he did not approve with Daniels beforehand:
"These are the same people who cost us Republican control of the Senate,” Lubbers said of the Club. “Sad to see that [Jim] Banks has thrown in with them. And apparently, they think it’s political genius to poke the bear with a sharp stick. We’ll see how that works out.”
Daniels is expected to make a decision on a bid by the end of the month or in early February. Does this ad make him more—or less—likely to run?
Good Friday morning, and welcome back to IMPORTANTVILLE. Former Vice Mike Pence is returning to speak at the Gridiron Dinner—where he last spoke in 2017. Mitch Daniels also spoke at the comedy-based event in 2011 as he was weighing his own presidential bid.
THE IMPORTANTVILLE INTERVIEW: DAVE BANGERT OF BASED IN LAFAYETTE
If you’re someone who has had any interest in Mitch Daniels or Purdue University over the last several years, you’re reading the journalist Dave Bangert—or should be. Bangert, who took a buyout from the Journal & Courier, graciously agreed to an interview about his time covering Daniels and Indiana politics, as well as what he’s learned about local journalism.
How did you get started in journalism?
An adviser guided me to Doug Lane’s journalism class my junior year at McCluer North High School in Florissant, Missouri. I wrote about the tennis team, gave a so-so write-up on “Take This Job and Shove It” at the movies and reviewed Jackson Browne’s “Hold Out” album. I think I got a B, maybe a B-plus, in the class. Mr. Lane suggested I give the newspaper class a try my senior year. A byline every two weeks in the McCluer North Star Gazer was the stuff. And I never really escaped.
Are you an Indiana native?
I’m not. I grew up in North County St. Louis. A different kind of Hoosier, for sure. I went to school at the University of Colorado. Mainly to ski, to start. I worked for several years in Lawrence, Kansas, at the Journal-World, straight out of school, before taking a job at the Lafayette Journal & Courier in January 1989. That was just before the Subaru plant opened, during Lafayette’s Railroad Relocation Project days. For all sorts of reasons, I never really escaped there, either, and wound up wanting to stick around since then.
I remember trading messages with you when you first were thinking about starting a Substack. How has the experiment worked out?
I appreciated that advice. I turned to others, too. Including Kelly Dwyer, who writes The Second Arrangement, an NBA column out of Lafayette, of all places. If you like pro hoops mixed with references to J Mascis and Steely Dan, like I do, check out Kelly. I’d done a Q&A with him four or five years ago when Substack lured him in early on. He was a solid reality check. I’d left the J&C in December 2020 with a buyout. I figured, no big sweat, I’d get a 9-to-5, find after hours time to ride my bike, occasionally make some furniture in the shop and get back into a softball league at Lyboult Fields. I found the jobs out there for the limited skills I had from the newsroom weren’t exactly appealing. And I wasn’t getting picked when I applied. I started the Substack as a bit of a side hustle, just to see whether people would sign up to read a totally Lafayette-centric newsletter. And to see whether I still had the chops and the desire. I definitely wasn’t sure people would pay for a reporting project that didn’t have obits and sports and comics and all that stuff. That was May 2021. About five weeks later, I got a third rejection call for the same job – man, I got the hint after call No. 2. I wrote a piece explaining what I was doing here and pushed the paid subscription button that day. The Substack turned into a real job almost immediately. Go figure.
Want to share any stats on your subscriber base?
A bit, sure. I send newsletters to just shy of 4,000 subscribers, when you count the free and paid accounts. Substack doesn’t give much on subscriber demographics. But my base audience tends to be people who can name the mayors in Lafayette and West Lafayette and probably a county commissioner of two, have been to at least one Purdue Convos show in the past few years and eat at locally owned places on Main Street twice a month. They have to be plugged if they’re reading my West Lafayette board of works highlights.
You've covered a lot of Hoosier politicians who have had Lafayette in their district (or were campaigning or doing their day jobs there), from Todd Rokita to Mitch Daniels. What have you learned about Indiana politics during that time?
Mainly, that everyone seems to know everything until you open a notebook. Then no one knows anything. That, and that, like news coverage, it really is hyper-local.
What’s been your favorite interaction with an Indiana politician, one that maybe never left your notebook—or didn't even make it there?
I’m not sure about the favorite. But you mentioned Todd Rokita. I covered him quite a bit when he was in Congress in the 4th District. I was there when he made a high school junior curl up on a bench near the courthouse fountain and cry during a conversation about gun control at a Congress on Your Corner event. He was a columnist’s dream.
I wrote about this one in the J&C. He was touring the state to launch his Senate campaign and stopped at a locally owned home improvement store. He was going to “Defeat the Elite.” Elite politicians. Elites from the coasts who didn’t understand the concept of American exceptionalism. And media elites who were enemies of the people … probably. As an example, he nodded my way, standing back in the granite countertops, telling people that even the local media couldn’t get things straight. Everyone in the room, most of whom I knew either as sources or just from around town, turned around and pointed and smirked, like: He’s talking about you. Outside, Rokita insisted on having one of his handlers take a photo of the two of us to prove that a congressman and a columnist could stand together near his red-white-and-blue wrapped campaign Humvee at least long enough to get one photo. I remember Rokita’s guy had his finger in the frame. Classic. I generally don’t take selfies with sources, but I asked for a copy so I could post it before Rokita could. Meanwhile, all the local Republican hard-core fans – people I knew fairly well – came out of the store wanting to talk about the first week of school, the need to house players for the Colt World Series at Loeb Stadium, to remind me that registration was coming up for the 100 Men Who Cook fundraiser and share a few random tips. I got into a tiny hatchback and drove back to my desk. Day in the life of the Media Elite.
You've covered Mitch Daniels during his time at Purdue closer than anyone else. As he ponders a potential Senate bid, what do you see as some of his strengths and weaknesses that may come to light in a Republican primary?
I think David McIntosh just answered that, pumping out that Club for Growth Action ad ripping Daniels for not being a true conservative. I’m no handicapper, but I think if Daniels gets in the race, he does well. Whether he gets in the race is the question. The fact that he signaled he’s thinking about the Senate, and not another run for governor, is a pretty good indication. But there’s no doubt from watching 10 years at Purdue, the guy is in his element when he’s in charge with big-picture projects. Others have asked – even he’s asked: Is that what he’d get in the Senate?
He imagined some pretty elaborate Covid restrictions on campus. What did you notice about his handling of the pandemic, and do you think he might be criticized from the right on some of those initiatives?
I think Daniels had more skeptics on campus and in town who thought he was too aggressive in opening campus during the pandemic. Not the other way around. He and trustees have staked claims on the way they handled COVID. They believe it’s one reason enrollment continued to boom in West Lafayette. If he gets criticism from the right, I think he can explain what happened, why Purdue was aggressive on testing and masking and all the rest to make a close-quarters campus work.
How was he perceived off campus? There’s always talk of the town and gown divide in university towns and their surrounding areas.
One of the first questions I asked him when he arrived on campus in 2013 was whether he was open to West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis’ hopes to annex the campus and the land to the west, out toward the new route of U.S. 231. Daniels kind of laughed and was, like, Is that what John said? But that got done. So did a Purdue-West Lafayette partnership on a $120 million State Street makeover, which opened up a tons of development – for better or for worse, depending on who you’re talking to. Daniels always wanted to be seen as an active partner in town, always doing shout outs for Mayor Dennis and Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski. Daniels and Dennis are real, actual pals. He left telling trustees and everyone else not to take those town/gown relationships for granted. Still, there’s a reason why some on the city council were a bit salty about renaming part of State Street to Mitch Daniels Boulevard without much notice. They probably would have done it, either way. But they knew there were people in their neighborhoods who weren’t the biggest fans. The city is still coming to grips with massive enrollment growth, among other things.
Based in Lafayette, as you are, do you notice an I-465 bubble in the way Indy-centric journalists cover issues as opposed to the way you hear and think about issues outside of the doughnut counties?
Indy coverage is going to do what Indy coverage is going to do. It always has. Then again, I’m plenty parochial here in Lafayette, too.
What have you learned about local journalism through Based in Lafayette?
That people want it. That people want local reporting. That people understand it might come from people who have to explain, Who are you with, again?
And that the same things as always apply when it comes to being fair and being upfront. Lafayette is a Grocery Store Town. Meaning there really is no hiding. I know that when I go to Pay Less Super Market on Greenbush Street, I’m likely to run into someone I’ve quoted or written about or written for. I’ll tell you sometime about the cashier who left my groceries at the checkout because she was pissed about an Alan Jackson concert review I wrote. That’s a real incentive to get it right. And to be fair. Bonus: These days, with an independent project, I actually see the subscriptions and unsubscriptions in real time. It’s a bit harrowing.
What is your favorite thing about Indiana?
About Indiana? I’m not sure I’m an expert on Indiana. What I like about Lafayette, and I think it probably translates, is that there’s this core of people who understand that the world isn’t coming here to entertain it or necessarily make things happen. There are people who know how to make things happen, if they want them to happen. Ask me sometime about the Friends of Bob Live Music Co-op. It’s fairly dormant now. But for 25 years, a group of people in town decided they wanted to see certain bands in local venues. And they did it. Amazing work. Amazing times. People in Indiana – in Lafayette, for sure – know how to get that stuff done.
“Braun's bid for governor highlights different state laws on transferring campaign cash,” by NBC News’ Ben Kamisar
Even though that money was raised for Braun's Senate campaign, there's no prohibition in federal law against transferring that money to a state or local campaign, as long as the move doesn't violate that local law. Many states, including Indiana, do allow those transfers, allowing Braun to start his gubernatorial race with a leg up (that said, Braun loaned his 2018 campaign $11.6 million of his personal wealth, which he could also do to add to his gubernatorial campaign coffers).
“Pence on possible 2024 presidential run: "I think we've got time,” by CBS News' Robert Costa
Former Vice President Mike Pence continues to leave the door open to 2024 presidential run but told CBS News this week that he does not feel any rush to formally announce a bid for the Republican presidential nomination, even though his former boss, former President Donald Trump, is already seeking it.
"I think we've got time," Pence said in an interview on Tuesday in The Villages, a Republican stronghold in central Florida.