McCormick hints at run for Indiana governor, while other Democrats still mum

The former Republican said she could make an official candidacy announcement in early 2023.

By: - December 12, 2022 7:00 am

Jennifer McCormick speaks during a rally at the Indiana Statehouse on Nov. 22, 2022. (Casey Smith/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Indiana’s former superintendent of public instruction Jennifer McCormick is increasingly hinting at a run for governor in 2024, sparking new questions about who Democrats might rally behind for the statewide race.

She joins a small field of other potential Democratic contenders — none of whom have filed candidacy paperwork or made formal campaign announcements. That includes Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, former state Rep. Christina Hale and former U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly. 

Other possible Democratic candidates whose names have been tossed around are seeking election wins in other Indiana races, however. 

On the other side of the aisle, Republican U.S. Senator Mike Braun filed paperwork last month to run for Indiana’s governor in 2024, according to campaign documents. He will formally announce his run on Monday.

So far, the only other announced GOP candidate for the position is Eric Doden, a Fort Wayne businessman, who has outlined several conservative priorities when he launched an ad campaign earlier this month.

Republicans dominate Indiana’s elected offices, with the GOP claiming supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly, nine of 11 federal seats, and more than 80% of all county offices. 

Democrats have not claimed a statewide election win in Indiana since 2012. Ball State University political science professor Chad Kinsella said that makes it even harder — and less likely — for the party to get a gubernatorial victory. He noted, as well, that Democrats lack a strong pool of possible candidates.

“I think the hardest thing that Indiana Democrats have is a really short bench. There’s very few (Democratic candidates) that have good name ID, that are well-known in the state, that have run a successful statewide race. It’s been a long time,” Kinsella said. “It’s going to probably be a tough year for any Democrat running for governor of Indiana.”

McCormick — unofficially — eyes the statehouse

McCormick began her career as a special education teacher before working as a school principal and later superintendent of Yorktown Community schools.

She is not a longtime Democrat, though. The former educator was chosen by the Indiana Republican Party as the nominee for the superintendent of public instruction position in 2016. Her platform emphasized a need for Indiana to reject national Common Core learning standards and “reckless” standardized testing. She went on to defeat incumbent Glenda Ritz that November.

McCormick served as Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction from 2017 through 2021. Her tenure ended after Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a bill in 2019 to eliminate the elected position and create an appointed secretary of education position instead.

Holcomb appointed Katie Jenner to the office, where she still currently serves.

In June 2021, McCormick announced that she had officially switched from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party.

Her party switch was foreshadowed by an earlier agreement in 2020 — while still in state office — to stay on at the Department of Education if Woody Myers, a Democrat, was elected governor and won the right to appoint the first Indiana secretary of education.

Last year, McCormick additionally toured the state alongside other Democratic former elected officials, including Donnelly and gubernatorial nominee John Gregg, touting the benefits of the American Rescue Plan for Hoosiers.

McCormick said publicly that she has established an exploratory committee that has been filed publicly and she’s considering a run for governor as a Democrat. She said a formal decision about her candidacy could come in early 2023.

Much of McCormick’s public commentary since then has come from her social media presence, especially on Twitter, where she’s often critical of GOP policies concerning Indiana education. Recent posts from her personal account also hint at a 2024 gubernatorial run.

Still, McCormick’s run is likely to be “tough,” Kinsella said, emphasizing the myriad of challenges faced by Indiana’s Democratic Party in statewide election bids. 

McCormick won a statewide race as a Republican and has name recognition — which could help her garner support from some moderate Republicans, he said. But that might not help her in the Democratic primary, where other candidates are likely to use the party switch against her.

“It’s a really easy thing for any of her primary opponents to say, ‘Look, she was a Republican up until a couple of years ago. So why would you want this person to be our standard there?’ Kinsella said. 

Democratic contenders eyeing other races

Most other Democratic hopefuls have held office already, although Kinsella added that other “dark horse candidates” could declare, too, “to maybe try to make a name for themselves.”

Among those more likely to be known to voters is McDermott, a five-term mayor of Hammond, the largest city in Lake County. 

He came up short last month in his Senate seat bid against GOP incumbent U.S. Sen. Todd Young. McDermott has not commented publicly on whether he’ll pursue a gubernatorial run.

Despite a separate loss in the Indiana Secretary of State race during the latest election cycle, Destiny Wells could be another contender, Kinsella said.

“To her credit, as far as statewide races, that was the closest one,” he said. “She might have an interest in this.”

Hale, who served as a former Democratic member of the Indiana House of Representatives from 2012 to 2016, could also be in the mix. She ran for lieutenant governor in the 2016 election on a joint ticket with Gregg. The duo lost to Holcomb then-state auditor Suzanne Crouch.

In November 2020, Hale also ran a heated but unsuccessful campaign for Indiana’s 5th Congressional District seat, losing out to Republican Victoria Spartz.

Donnelly, another possibility, was the last Democrat to win state office when he won his U.S. Senate seat against Republican Richard Mourdock in 2018. In a 2018 reelection bid, Donnelly lost to Braun, now Indiana’s junior U.S. senator. But he has been quiet while serving as U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican.

But other big names in the Indiana Democratic Party will seek election and re-election wins in local races. 

That includes Rep. Robin Shackleford, who announced last month that she will challenge Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett’s reelection bid.

In northern Indiana, State Rep. Eddie Melton said in November that he will make a run for Gary mayor, making it unlikely that he will be a contender in the governor’s race, either.

Capital Chronicle reporter Leslie Bonilla Muñiz contributed to this story.


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Casey Smith
Casey Smith

A lifelong Hoosier, Casey Smith previously reported on the Indiana Legislature for The Associated Press. Internationally, she has reported on water quality across South America. She holds a master’s degree in investigative reporting and narrative science writing from the University of California/Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. She previously earned degrees in journalism, anthropology and Spanish from Ball State University, where she now serves as an instructor of journalism.