- Associated Press - Friday, July 22, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Donald Trump’s new running mate Mike Pence said Friday that Indiana’s recently appointed lieutenant governor should take his place as the GOP nominee for governor on the November ballot.

Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb has never won a political race of his own, but Pence in a statement “wholeheartedly” endorsed him as “one of the best prepared individuals in recent memory” to be governor.

“I’ve known Eric Holcomb for more than twenty years,” Pence said. “His range of service to our State and our Nation makes him uniquely qualified to fill this role.”

Pence withdrew from the race last week after the Republican presidential nominee and billionaire businessman plucked him to be his vice president. That set off a flurry of behind-the-scenes lobbying by some of the state’s top Republican office holders, including U.S. Reps. Todd Rokita and Susan Brooks, who are also considered to be top contenders.

Indiana University public affairs Professor Paul Helmke says Pence’s endorsement, while not a surprise, will tip the race in Holcomb’s favor when the 22-member state Republican Party committee meets behind closed doors next week to a replacement.

“That puts the committee in a little bit of a bind,” Helmke said. “If they reject the vice president (nominee’s) endorsement that might send a message that there’s some disunity going on.”

State law bars most candidates from simultaneously seeking two offices, so Brooks and Rokita filed paperwork withdrawing from their congressional re-election bids last week. Holcomb, whom Pence appointed as lieutenant governor in March, filed the forms to drop his bid for election to a full term.

Whoever is passed over by the committee can be restored to the ballot for the positions they withdrew from, though Indiana Republican Party Chairman Jeff Cardwell has cautioned that there are no guarantees.

Holcomb, who has never been elected to office, has touted his eight years as an aide and campaign manager to former Gov. Mitch Daniels and four months as lieutenant governor. Pence picked Holcomb after his 2012 running mate, Sue Ellspermann, resigned.

Holcomb praised Pence for the endorsement, but has thus far refused to offer his views on hot-button issues, while pledging to continue pursuing a business-friendly agenda first articulated under Daniels.

“I am as honored today to receive Governor Pence’s support as I was when answering his call to serve as Lt. Governor,” Holcomb said in a statement.

Likely facing diminished odds of selection, Brooks released a statement saying Pence’s endorsement “doesn’t change my focus.” Her advocates argue she is a more electable general-election candidate and she has stuck a more moderate tone on divisive social issue that have been a hallmark of Pence’s one term in office.

“I am confident I am the strongest candidate to beat John Gregg in the fall, and I will continue my efforts to demonstrate that to the committee,” Brooks said.

A spokesman for Rokita was not available for comment.

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