Democrats aiming to grab Indiana attorney general's office

FILE - In this Aug. 20, 2020 file photo, Democratic attorney general candidate Jonathan Weinzapfel responds to a question during an interview in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)

By TOM DAVIES Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The race for the Indiana attorney general’s office was the most-contested statewide campaign for this year’s election ballot.

Democrats looking to break the stranglehold Republicans have over state government spent months castigating current Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill over allegations that he drunkenly groped four women during a party, only to see former U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita narrowly defeat Hill for the GOP nomination in July.

Democratic candidate Jonathan Weinzapfel, a former Evansville mayor, said during the campaign he wanted to tone down partisanship in the office of state government’s top lawyer.

Rokita countered as an unabashed President Donald Trump supporter with an aggressive law-and-order and anti-abortion agenda that will continue Hill’s tactics of joining Republican lawsuits against what they regard as federal overreach, such as the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.”

Weinzapfel said he saw no difference between Rokita and Hill over what he called “gross politicization of the office.”

Rokita avoided defending Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb against conservative critics of the coronavirus-related executive orders he’s issued since March, including restrictions on personal movement, forcing some businesses to close and a statewide mask mandate.

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 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 advertising campaigns that often coincided with his bids for office.

With Holcomb holding big fundraising and organization advantages for his reelection campaign, Weinzapfel was trying to break the streak of Democratic defeats in statewide races that stretches back to the 2012 election. Republicans also hold commanding majorities in the Legislature, giving Democrats little influence in state government.