INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A former aide to Mike Pence sidesteps previous support for tighter voting restrictions and doubts about the 2020 presidential election as he tries to avoid campaign turbulence for what would normally be an under-noticed election victory by a Republican seeking is to Indiana’s top polling station.
Since Diego Morales defeated current Indiana Secretary of State ahead of the June GOP nomination, he has offered little explanation for dropping his criticisms of early voting and postal voting, as Democrats criticize Morales as one of several Republican “election deniers” looking for state offices across the country
Indiana Democrats, who last won a statewide race a decade ago, see an opportunity to defeat Morales in the Nov. 8 election. They emphasize that he has twice left a job with a low-level Secretary of State after he was written up for poor job performance and had questions about his military service.
Morales has largely focused his campaign on performing at Republican county events and local festivals, brushing aside criticism. He has not joined candidate forums with Democrat Destiny Wells and libertarian Jeff Mauer and skipped a debate with them last week aired by public TV stations across Indiana.
Wells said Morales is “sowing seeds of fear and doubt” about elections and that the secretary of state should focus on ameliorating Indiana’s low-turnout problems.
“I think Diego is very unfair when the Secretary of State has to take Indiana in electoral reform,” Wells said. “We don’t need to make voting more difficult to make it safer and he just wants to make it more difficult by reducing the opportunities to vote.”
Ahead of Morales’ victory at the June Republican convention over current Secretary of State Holli Sullivan, he wrote an online column describing the 2020 election. “scam” while pointing to unfounded claims former President Donald Trump and his allies have made about other states. He called for voter restrictions, including halving Indiana’s 28-day early voting period, eliminating several reasons people can vote by mail, requiring new voters to prove their U.S. citizenship when registering, and creating an “election task force” that would investigate “shenanigans.”
His one-page campaign website has not mentioned such plans, and they do not appear in his frequent social media posts from greet voters.
When asked in an interview to explain his shifts, Morales did not provide a direct answer.
“As I traverse the 92 counties, I have listened to all the Hoosiers, including the clerks, and I have meetings with them and I believe the early vote is working and will remain the same,” Morales told The Associated Press. .
The Indiana Secretary of State oversees statewide election policies, which are led by elected provincial officials under laws enacted by the Republican-dominated legislature. Winning the GOP nomination for office equates to electoral victory, as Republicans have won in double digits in six of the past seven times it has been on the ballot.
Morales, 43, draws heavily on his life story of immigrating from Guatemala with his parents and sisters, finishing high school in southern Indiana’s town of Sellersburg, then studying at Indiana University Southeast and enlisting in the military before becoming a U.S. citizen. became.
Morales briefly held a position as Secretary of State in 2009 and 2011 until he writing down poor performance first reported by the AP during its failed 2018 bid for a congressional seat in Indiana. He returned to the state government as an assistant to Pence’s gubernatorial staff for four years, until Pence left to become Trump’s vice president in 2017. Other Pence staffers have defended his work, and Pence spoke at a fundraiser for Morales campaign last week.
His campaign’s social media pages feature photos of Morales in camouflage uniform and videos highlighting his service as an Army infantryman.
However, military records released by the Morales campaign indicate that in 2007 he underwent approximately 3-1/2 months of Army infantry training and was transferred to the Indiana National Guard. The records show that Morales left the National Guard in 2013 without going beyond his initial rank of specialist or undergoing additional military training.
Morales said he was proud of his military service, but declined to talk about it in detail.
“My reasoning for joining is simply to give back,” he said. “I believe I have signed a blank check to be ready for this great country if necessary.”
Morales also declined to discuss why he never sought promotion or was not activated when his National Guard unit was deployed to Iraq in 2008.
“Feel free to call the National Guard or the US Army or the Department of Defense. I’m sure they’d walk you through that,” Morales said. “You can call them because they are the experts, they will tell you every detail of this. So there is proof that I was honorably discharged and I am very proud of that.”
However, a spokesman for the Indiana National Guard responded that the only information that may be released under military regulations are records pertaining to “service status, the nature of his discharge, his years of service, his awards, his education, and his specialty.” “
The Democratic nominee, Wells, a 38-year-old attorney, has released details of her military service since 2004, including her promotion to her current Army Reserve rank of lieutenant colonel, time as an intelligence officer, and active deployment to Afghanistan in 2017.
Wells turns the discussion about military service back to what she calls an erosion of women’s rights with the… statewide abortion ban approved by the Republican-dominated legislature. Wells said that action was a result of the total control Republicans now have over the state government and that more balance between two parties is needed.
“I went to the ends of the earth to protect the idea of democracy abroad, to protect women in third world countries abroad, so that they have rights like ours secured,” Wells said. “But now I’m home and I see my own rights being taken away.”
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