INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Former U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita announced Wednesday that he will challenge state Attorney General Curtis Hill’s reelection bid, arguing Hill has been “wounded” by allegations that he groped a state lawmaker and three other women and that Republicans shouldn’t nominate him for the office again.
Rokita, who is known as a contentious conservative, is looking to make a political comeback after running unsuccessfully for governor and a U.S. Senate seat. His announcement followed Monday’s start of a state Supreme Court-ordered 30-day suspension of Hill’s law license over the groping accusations.
Two lower-profile candidates - Decatur County Prosecutor Nate Harter and Indianapolis attorney John Westercamp - were already challenging Hill for the Republican nomination, which will be decided by mail-in voting among state party convention delegates following a June 18 virtual convention. Rokita, though, argued that he’s the best candidate to keep the position in Republican hands come November.
“Running against a Republican officeholder is not something I ever would want to do, in just about any circumstance. But our incumbent is wounded. The unanimous Supreme Court ruling, by Republican appointed and conservative Justices, after a significant investigation of the facts made this choice clear,” Rokita said in a statement.
Hill has denied doing anything wrong at the March 2018 party marking the end of that year’s legislative session and is seeking reelection despite calls to resign from Gov. Eric Holcomb and other top Indiana Republicans since the allegations became public that summer.
The state Supreme Court’s said in its unanimous decision last week that the state’s attorney disciplinary commission “proved by clear and convincing evidence that (Hill) committed the criminal act of battery.”
Holcomb declined Wednesday to endorse any of the candidates. “I’m going to back the delegates because they will decide,” Holcomb said.
Hill said in a statement he expected a “month of mudslinging” and took a swipe at Rokita, saying “he has run for plenty” of offices.
“This was not a surprise, as he has made his political agenda known since July of 2018, just as others with political malice toward me began their attempts to remove me from office,” Hill said. “I have weathered these storms and attacks on my character throughout the process and will continue to stand strong for my conservative beliefs.”
Harter has also argued that Hill is vulnerable to defeat by Democrats, and his campaign indicated Wednesday that he would remain in the race, describing Harter as “a tough and tested prosecutor.”
Rokita won statewide elections as secretary of state in 2002 and 2006 before he held a central Indiana congressional seat for eight years. He lost a 2018 bid for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination to Mike Braun and unsuccessfully sought the party’s 2016 nomination for governor after then-Gov. Mike Pence became Donald Trump’s vice presidential running mate.
Rokita has faced several controversies, including allegations that his congressional staffers often felt obligated to do political work to help his campaigns. And a 2018 Associated Press analysis of state and congressional spending records revealed that Rokita had spent more than $3 million in public money on ad campaigns that often coincided with his bids for office.
State Sen. Karen Tallian of Ogden Dunes and former Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel are seeking the Democratic nomination.
Lauren Ganapini, the Indiana Democratic Party’s executive director, called Rokita a “perennial candidate” and said his “eleventh hour entrance is poised to implode what was already an embarrassing effort from Indiana Republicans.”
Democratic Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon testified during an October hearing on the groping allegations that Hill, smelling of alcohol and with glassy eyes, was holding a drink in his right hand and put his left hand on her shoulder, then slid his hand down her dress to clench her buttocks. “A squeeze, a firm grasp,” she said.
Three female legislative staffers - ages 23 to 26 at the time - testified that Hill inappropriately touched their backs or buttocks and made unwelcome sexual comments during the party.
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