INDIANAPOLIS -- Eric Holcomb began the year trailing a distant third in the race to replace his old boss, U.S. Senator Dan Coats. He'll end the year by stepping into the job held by his current boss, Gov. Mike Pence.
The Indiana Republican Central Committee selected Holcomb in July to replace Pence in the governor's race – passing over the more well-known Rep. Susan Brooks and Rep. Todd Rokita
He had a difficult challenge ahead of him: Roughly 100 days to transform himself from a relatively unknown career political operative to a candidate capable of defeating a former speaker of the Indiana House who lost his first bid for governor by one of the narrowest margins in state history.
On Tuesday, riding an electoral wave that saw Republicans sweep races across the country, Holcomb did just that – winning the election to become Indiana's 51st governor.
The unlikely candidate
Before Pence announced his endorsement and support of Holcomb in the race to replace him, the former Navy intelligence officer may not have been the obvious choice to lead the Republican ticket.
Unlike Brooks, a former U.S. district attorney now serving her first term in Congress (where she was a member of the much-watched House Select Committee on Benghazi), and Rokita, who served two terms as Indiana's secretary of state, Holcomb, a former Naval intelligence officer, has spent almost all of his career behind the scenes. Until being appointed lieutenant governor by Pence earlier this year, Holcomb had never held a public office. Until his win Tuesday, he'd never been elected to one.
Holcomb, a graduate of Pike High School in Indianapolis, graduated from Hanover College with a degree in U.S. history. He specialized in the American Civil War and Reconstruction.
After spending six years in the U.S. Navy, Holcomb worked first for former Congressman John Hostettler and then as an advisor for former Gov. Mitch Daniels from 2003-2010, when he became chairman of the Indiana Republican Party. Holcomb then moved to U.S. Sen. Dan Coats' office in Washington, where he served as chief of staff.
In 2000, Holcomb launched a failed bid for Congress against Democrat John Frenz – who he accused in a campaign ad of supporting obscenity and bestiality for voting on a budget that included funding for Indiana University, home of the Kinsey Institute.
Holcomb announced last year that he would run for the Senate seat being vacated by his boss, Sen. Coats, who announced he was retiring. But he dropped out of the race in February after coming in a distant third in fundraising to fellow Republicans Rep. Marlin Stutzman and Rep. Todd Young. Young eventually won the GOP primary, and will face former governor and senator Evan Bayh in November.
Holcomb's first chance at public office came in March when Pence appointed him to replace Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann.
Despite his less-than-public persona, Holcomb received endorsements for Indiana's top job from party leaders like Pence and Coats. And he was quickly able to put together a statewide leadership team – even before being selected as the GOP's candidate.
Phillip Stoller, a former member of the Indiana State Committee, praised Holcomb in a statement for his "servant leadership."
"He always listened to the ideas brought to him, and showed a real interest in understanding peoples' perspectives," Stoller said. "It is this kind of leadership that is best suited to serve the people of Indiana."
Another Republican, Pete Seat, a senior project manager at Hathaway Strategies who worked with the Holcomb campaign, told RTV6 in July that elected office isn't the only way to gain experience.
"He currently holds the second highest statewide office in Indiana and he led the team that re-elected Governor Mitch Daniels and brought the Republican Party historic gains in the 2011 and 2012 election cycles," Seat said. "Plus, he worked alongside Governor Daniels for two terms – eight full years – as well as with Senator Dan Coats and now Governor Mike Pence. Elected office isn’t the only way to gain experience in balancing budgets, cutting taxes and investing in the future."
In an interview with RTV6 Statehouse Reporter Katie Heinz, Holcomb said he wanted the job to keep Indiana "on course and moving forward."
"I'm excited about the potential we have before us," Holcomb said. "We are moving forward, and other states are trying to catch up with us."