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Republican Holcomb wins reelection as Indiana governor

Indiana Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb participates in the Indiana Gubernatorial debate with Democrat Woody Myers and Libertarian Donald Rainwater, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, in Indianapolis. The candidates were in separate studios to allow for social distancing guidelines. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

By TOM DAVIES and CASEY SMITH Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Republican Eric Holcomb has won reelection as Indiana governor, fending off challengers who criticized his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Holcomb went into his campaign for a second term with a huge fundraising advantage and didn’t face any well-known challengers. Holcomb sidestepped any criticism of President Donald Trump even as Holcomb promoted face mask use and issued a statewide mask mandate in July.

Holcomb overcame Democrat Woody Myer, a former state health commissioner who called for tougher anti-virus actions as Indiana’s COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations climbed steeply since nearly all state restrictions were lifted in September.

Some conservatives called Holcomb’s actions excessive and were, instead, backing Libertarian candidate Donald Rainwater.

Holcomb was lieutenant governor under then-Gov. Mike Pence and replaced Pence as the Republican governor candidate in 2016 after Pence became Trump’s vice presidential running mate.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

Republicans were poised to continue their Indiana political dominance as voters cast this year’s final ballots Tuesday, although Democrats had some chances to claw back to greater relevance.

With President Donald Trump and Gov. Eric Holcomb appearing as likely Republican wins, Democrats concentrated their fall campaigns on capturing the state attorney general’s office and a central Indiana congressional seat that’s competitive after decades as a GOP bastion.

A record number of more than 1.7 million voters have cast ballots ahead of Election Day as coronavirus health concerns prompted more use of mail-in ballots and early voting sites. Indiana polling sites close at 6 p.m. local time, although state law allows anyone in line at that time to cast a ballot.

LINES AND LOTS OF COUNTING

Long lines of voters formed at some polling places in Indianapolis and its suburbs before doors opened in the cold, predawn darkness.

Many polling sites continued to see lines into Tuesday evening but most were expected to wrap up soon after the 6 p.m. closing time, said Russell Hollis, deputy director of the Marion County clerk’s office.

“Overall, things have gone well. It’s been an interesting day with lines, but other than that, things for the most part have all gone pretty smooth,” Hollis said.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, Hollis said election officials had processed 50,700 early ballots from Indianapolis voters. With about 160,000 such ballots still needing processed, Hollis said it will likely take the rest of the week before all are counted.

Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody said the record number of mail-in ballots around the state means people might need to be patient while waiting for election results.

“That is perfectly reasonable given the circumstances,” Zody said. “I’m willing to experience a little bit of a delay here if that means all the votes are going to be counted in the right way.”

GOVERNOR’S RACE

Holcomb faced plenty of criticism over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic since he first issued a public health emergency in March. Through it all, he kept up his front-runner campaign for a second term with large advantages of name identification, fundraising and organization.

Democratic challenger Woody Myers, a physician and former state health commissioner, argued Holcomb has been too passive by not imposing penalties for those not wearing face masks in public and for lifting nearly all coronavirus restrictions on businesses and crowd sizes in September just as the state saw steep increases in coronavirus-related deaths, infections and hospitalizations.

Some conservatives around the state angry with Holcomb over his COVID-19 actions rallied around Libertarian Donald Rainwater, who maintained the governor was infringing on individual rights.

PRESIDENTIAL VOTING

Indiana, the home state of Vice President Mike Pence, appeared securely in President Donald Trump’s column as Democrat Joe Biden’s campaign paid little attention to the state that has gone for Republican candidates in 12 of the last 13 presidential elections.

Trump won Indiana by 19 percentage points in 2016 over Hillary Clinton. Republicans admitted his popularity had eroded in some areas, contributing to a contentious campaign for a longtime GOP-controlled congressional district in suburban Indianapolis that Democrats were trying to capture.

ATTORNEY GENERAL

Former U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita is trying to extend the Republican hold on the state attorney general’s office against Democrat Jonathan Weinzapfel, a former Evansville mayor.

Rokita narrowly won the Republican nomination over current Attorney General Curtis Hill, whose law license was suspended by the state Supreme Court over allegations that he drunkenly groped four women during a party.

Rokita’s campaign announced Tuesday he had tested positive for COVID-19 after developing “some symptoms” but was doing well. He planned to watch Tuesday’s election returns at home with his family.

Weinzapfel was aiming to break the complete control Republicans have had on statewide offices the past four years and become the first Democrat to win a statewide election since 2012. Rokita, a contentious conservative, was looking for a political comeback after losing the 2018 Republican primary for U.S. Senate.

HOT US HOUSE RACE

Indiana’s highest-profile congressional race in years has Republican Victoria Spartz facing Democrat Christina Hale for central Indiana’s 5th District seat following the retirement of current GOP Rep. Susan Brooks.

At least $15 million was sunk into the race, with national party organizations and dark-money groups spending heavily for the district centered on the northern suburbs of Indianapolis that Republicans have controlled for more than five decades.

Spartz won a crowded Republican primary race that largely turned into a contest of loyalty to Trump. But she afterward shifted away from talking about Trump during the general election campaign.

Meanwhile, Democrat Frank Mrvan is heavily favored to win election to replace retiring Rep. Pete Visclosky in the party’s 1st District northwestern Indiana stronghold. A change in party control was unlikely in the state’s seven other U.S. House seats.

STATE LEGISLATURE

The northern Indianapolis suburbs were also the site of several hotly contested races for state legislative seats where Democrats were seeking to oust Republican lawmakers.

Those included Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston, who was facing voters in his Fishers district for the first time since taking over the top legislative position in March.

Republicans were likely to retain strong majorities in both the Indiana House and Senate, but Democrats have a chance to break the two-thirds GOP supermajority in the House that gives them total control over legislative action.

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Find AP’s full election coverage at APNews.com/Election2020.

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Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.