MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. — If ever there was a professional resume to match a political moment, it could be that of Dr. Woody Myers.
The Indiana Democratic gubernatorial nominee is a medical doctor who spent his mid-career as a health official to corporations like Ford Motor Co. The campaign notes: Dr. Myers’ career intersects with many of the highest-profile medical stories of the last few decades, including teaching emergency medicine in San Francisco at the time of the emerging AIDS crisis. Myers served as Indiana health commissioner and championed the cause of Ryan White, a young boy infected with HIV who wished to attend public school.
On his Twitter account, Myers acknowledged, “My life has led to this reckoning of a pandemic, an economic collapse, and a racial awakening. This election, we are fighting to put people over politics and fix this broken system.”
But as he heads into the Labor Day milepost, the Myers campaign languishes in his challenge to Gov. Eric Holcomb.
The pandemic has crimped Myers’ challenge financially from its beginning in March. But he began the year with just a $14,648 balance, even though Myers declared his candidacy the previous July. The Myers campaign posted $678,296 on its June 30 mid-year report and had just $72,310 cash on hand, which is by far the worst performing gubernatorial campaign for the two “major” parties in a generation.
Holcomb began the year with $7.25 million and at the June 30 reporting deadline, had more than $8 million cash on hand. He has already spent “seven figures” on two statewide TV ads and has booked all the ads the campaign figures it needs through the Nov. 3 election, according to his campaign manager, Indiana Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer.
“We’re not going to take our foot off the gas,” Hupfer said.
The Myers campaign suffered a big blow in August when the Indiana State Teachers Association’s I-PACE PAC declined to endorse or provide funding for Myers. In 2016, I-PACE spent more than $300,000 on Democrat nominee John Gregg.
“We’re a small PAC with limited resources, and so we have to be careful with that,” Keith Gambill, ISTA president,, told Chalkbeat. “The legislature has been at times a roadblock for positive change for our public schools, and we’ve got to elect more pro-public education candidates into the General Assembly.”
The lack of Myers’ financial traction prompted Gregg, the 2012 and 2016 nominee (who still has $360,882 cash on hand in his campaign account) to lament to the Indianapolis Business Journal that Indiana Democrats are “sitting this election out. It’s a missed opportunity.”
Last Monday night, Myers hosted a virtual fundraiser featuring former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg and Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett. Campaign spokeswoman Lindsay Shipps Haake told Howey Politics Indiana that it was “very successful,” as was the biographical video the campaign posted digitally in late August, which was also designed to gin up support and fundraising.
Myers campaign manager Zakiya Thomas put the fundraising push in perspective. “On Tuesday, September 1st, I have a meeting with Dr. Myers and our campaign team about our budget from now until Election Day,” Thomas said in an email to supporters. “That budget will depend on how much money we have in the bank before midnight of August 31st.”
On Wednesday, Haake said there are “no plans” currently to expand the campaign’s digital media outreach to broadcast and cable TV. “We’ve been reaching voters consistently,” she said, via digital marketing.
Unless the perfect storm develops – a worsening of the COVID-19 pandemic so severe that it would force another economic shutdown, the collapse of the Trump/Pence presidential prospects, and a wellspring of independent support for the Black Lives Matter movement – the idea that Myers will be in a position to seriously challenge Holcomb seems far, far fetched at this Labor Day milepost.
Gov. Holcomb is not out of the woods. While the state’s jobless rate slipped to 7.8% last month after ballooning to 16.9% in April, the state has mowed through $2 billion of its reserve funds in the three months between the start of the pandemic and the end of the fiscal year, there are an array of challenges just over the horizon like a wave of rental evictions.
Holcomb took steps to inoculate himself on the racial divide, holding a statewide address on Aug. 18 when he declared Indiana at an “inflection point” on race while vowing to become a “barrier buster.”
Myers quickly pronounced the effort as “Much too little, much too late” and countered with a biographical video, “A Broken System,” where he talked of the “shocking story of institutional racism he repeatedly encountered over the course of his 42-year medical career.”
In order to win a statewide campaign - particularly with President Trump and Vice President Pence expecting to easily carry Indiana - you can’t rely on just digital advertising.
In Holcomb’s eyes, a “perfect storm” would have Myers reaching into his personal fortune to fund a massive TV buy sometime over the next two months. That’s how U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth and now Victoria Spartz running in the 5th Congressional District have done it.
Myers has told me and other media he won’t be a self-funder. But in order for him to make inroads against the popular Gov. Holcomb, that may have to be his October surprise.
The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.