Speculation is buzzing about who Congressman Mike Pence will pick as his lieutenant governor. Much buzz has centered around District 74 State Representative Sue Ellspermann of Ferdinand, who was first elected in 2010 by defeating then House Majority Whip Russ Stilwell and has a background in academia and economic development.
The campaign's announcement roll-out schedule gives considerable credence to such speculation.
Emails sent out to Republicans in Vanderburgh and Warrick County invite them to an announcement at Tri-State Aero at the Evansville Regional Airport (map here)at noon on Monday.
So far, the campaign has given no information about any event elsewhere in the state that is scheduled earlier than the event in Evansville at noon on Monday. The event in Indianapolis is at three later that afternoon and is at the Express Scripts Distribution Facility at the former United Airlines maintenance complex on the back side of the Indianapolis International Airport (map here).
Though speculation in Indianapolis has centered on State Representative and Professor Sue Ellspermann, Evansville is also home to District 76 State Representative Wendy McNamara, who was likewise elected in 2010. McNamara, however, has a background in education, not in economic development. She faces a tough reelection fight against former State Representative Trent Van Haaften, who left open the seat she won in order to run for (and lose) the 8th District Congressional seat (itself left open by Brad Ellsworth's failed run for United States Senate). Her reelection bid may also be made more complicated from baggage gained during legislative sessions over the past two years.
Ellspermann's old district was heavy with union activity (Stilwell himself was a political director for the United Mine Workers). She voted (PDF warning) for right-to-work in the previous legislative session, as did McNamara. Ellspermann's new district is neither substantively more Republican or substantively less union (it gained, for example, heavily union and Democratic parts of Perry and Crawford Counties) post-redistricting.
Ellspermann faces a particularly challenging reelection campaign (largely by virtue of the nature of her district, not so much on the strength of her opponent, who is a retired school administrator whose website contains a map of the old district and not the new district; I wonder if he is even campaigning in the right places), and a move to lieutenant governor would either leave the seat open to a Republican candidate that does not have right-to-work baggage or at least free the House Republican Campaign Committee from having to invest a lot of money defending an incumbent in a very tough situation.
Sue Ellspermann's background in economic development would certainly be an asset to Pence's campaign. She doesn't have an extensive legislative resume, which could be seen either as an asset or a liability, depending on the role Pence intends for her to play in a future administration. She does not have the decade-plus of General Assembly experience Becky Skillman had when she became lieutenant governor, for example, so it is difficult to see her being a "legislative quarterback" for Pence's agenda in the same way that Skillman was for Daniels. Her focus, instead, would probably be entirely on economic development, which is probably a net positive overall given the nature of the economy and the early outlines being seen from Pence's campaign (and the campaign of his opponent).
And, of course, the selection of Ellspermann would be yet another blow to Democratic rhetoric about a Republican "war on women," particularly if--as is widely expected--Democratic nominee John Gregg picks a male mayor from northern Indiana as his lieutenant governor pick.
I am certain that there will be snark from some quarters about Republicans picking yet another blonde female state legislator from southern Indiana as their lieutenant governor nominee, but it cannot be said that Ellspermann--who holds a doctorate in industrial engineering, has decades of experience in economic development, and got elected in a very tough district against a very tough opponent--is not more than capable of performing the job.
There's another dimension to picking Ellspermann that also deserves mention. She is a graduate of the 2008-2009 class of the Lugar Series. Her selection could be seen as Pence, who assumed de facto leadership of the state Republican Party after the May primary, moving to heal some lingering wounds from the Senate contest between Dick Lugar and Richard Mourdock. Lugar supporters might still smart at their man not being on the ballot, but they could support the entire ticket knowing his legacy lives on (among other ways) in the nomination and election of Sue Ellspermann if she is indeed Pence's LG pick.
I know Ellspermann endorsed Lugar in the Senate primary, but I haven't been able to find what statements, if any, she has made about Mourdock's win. I do know, however, that she campaigned alongside both Pence and Mourdock in Boonville at a political rally in late October of 2010 when she was running for state representative. It's hard to see her having problems campaigning alongside Mourdock now if she was willing to campaign alongside him then.
Of course, all of the above speculation (and that of a great many other people) could be entirely wrong. That would be provably true if Pence has another announcement scheduled somewhere else in Indiana earlier than noon on Monday. It seems highly unlikely that the announcement itself would be distant from the home of Pence's lieutenant governor pick. The geography of the announcement events is the biggest clue going forward in the next two days.