Diego and the Press

This much is clear less than two weeks before the Nov. 8 election: Republican secretary of state nominee Diego Morales is getting historic bad press. You’d have to go back to 2012 to find a statewide candidate – Republican U.S. Senate nominee Richard Mourdock – who has gathered as much negative press as Morales, who upset Secretary of State Holli Sullivan at the June convention.

The good news for Diego Morales is that if there is an entity less popular than himself, it’s the press. And while Democrat nominee Destiny Wells is an impressive candidate, she hasn’t been able to raise the kind of money that would keep the baseline Republican vote from pulling in Morales on Election Day, unless a female voter surge develops (and there are 360,000 new voter registrations).

Morales’s problem is that he isn’t playing by the normal “showing up” rules. He won’t appear at debates or joint appearances, in part due to his early pronouncement that the 2020 presidential election was a “scam,” something he has backtracked on since he won the nomination, telling Howey Politics Indiana and the Washington Post that President Biden was legitimately elected in 2020.

His interviews are grudging and sheltered. I first interviewed Morales when he ran for the 4th Congressional District in 2018; he was likable, but not well-versed on the relevant issues of the office he sought. After he lost in the GOP primary to Jim Baird, I know of campaign staff who insisted they would never work with him again due to candidate rudeness, obstinance and tantrums. When it comes to campaigns, that is hardly an isolated phenomenon.

Since his upset of Sec. Sullivan, Morales has faced a reckoning:

Tom Davies of AP: “Ex-Pence aide shrugs off doubts in Indiana election post bid.” Davies writes, “A former Mike Pence aide is sidestepping previous support for tighter voting restrictions and doubts about the 2020 presidential vote as he tries to avoid turbulence in his campaign for what would typically be a little-noticed election win by a Republican seeking Indiana’s top elections office.”

James Briggs of the IndyStar: “Indiana Republicans should dump Diego Morales.” Briggs writes, “Diego Morales is one of the worst statewide general election candidates in Indiana history. Imagine someone comes to you and asks you to be a reference on a job application. But you know some things: This person has already been fired from the organization he wants to work for; he’s misrepresented his business ownership; his big pitch is that he’s a military veteran, but the actual experience amounts to three months and 18 days of basic training and some drills; a few other spots on his resume seem exaggerated; and two women who worked with him have accused him of sexual misconduct.” In another column, Briggs writes, “So we find the brain-broken Indiana Republican Party, a morally desolate institution, standing firm behind Diego Morales … with a record of failure that only a partisan fanatic could love.”

WIBC’s Kendall & Casey: “Diego Flip-Flops on early voting.” They write, “Republican Secretary of State Candidate Diego Morales appears to be flip-flopping on a key campaign issue to try and win votes. Morales seems to be backpedaling on the issue of limiting early voting to make up for several months of bad publicity.”

IBJ’s Jim Shella: “Diego Morales is unfit to serve as secretary of state.” Shella continues, “Morales now faces questions about sexual harassment, his work history and his military record. Morales could not meet (former Secretary of State Charlie) White’s standards. White could not meet the legal standards required to hold office. Voters should reject Morales.”

IndyStar: “Diego Morales is surrounded by controversy. Democrats hope to capitalize on it.” Reporter Kaitlin Lange writes: “The Indiana secretary of state race is shaping up to be a referendum on the character of the Republican candidate, opening up one of the Democrats’ few shots at a statewide office in the past decade.”

IndyStar: “Republican woman feels betrayed by GOP over Diego Morales sexual assault allegations.” Lange writes on Wednesday: “A Republican woman told several prominent Indiana Republicans that secretary of state candidate Diego Morales sexually assaulted her 15 years ago, she has told IndyStar, but none withdrew their support of his candidacy.”

Morales has denied the sexual harassment allegations made by two females.

All this negative press has yet to open a financial windfall for Wells. She out-raised Morales $328,000 to $311,000 in the third quarter, but Morales maintained a $482,000 to $299,000 cash-on-hand advantage. Wells has made a small statewide TV buy (AdWatch puts it at $207,000), hoping a sprout of TV money will gin up female turnout, following the 2012 playbook of Glenda Ritz, who upset Republican Supt. Tony Bennett. Ritz used a little late TV money and a social media campaign to ignite wide support from educators.

Wells’s pronouncement that “Indiana isn’t a red state, it’s a purple state with a turnout problem” will be tested Nov. 8. Indiana Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer expects the secretary of state race to “be a baseline vote” adding, “No candidate in any of these races is going to get more than 10% to 15% name ID across the state. The party will bring those three races home.”

If Hupfer’s right, the payoff for Democrats may come next year and beyond, when a “Secretary of State Morales” begins his performance in office.

The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com