A sense of loyalty to Vice President Mike Pence among establishment Republicans is proving a difficult obstacle for one challenger to his brother Greg Pence in the upcoming Republican primary for Indiana’s sixth congressional district.
Conservative grassroots candidate Stephen MacKenzie discovered the influence wielded by the Pence family after losing the support of a prominent Indiana businessman and a former conservative Indiana Congressman, both of whom promised to back his campaign, until the “powers that be” warned them against aiding one of Pence’s challengers.
“As soon as [Greg Pence] announced, we had a number of people approach my family and other people in my campaign, who said it would be in my best interest if I stepped down,” MacKenzie told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “In fact five days ago I got a call from a former member of congress, people would know him as a very strong conservative. He said look Stephen, I just got a call from Greg Pence – and this is someone who told us they would never support him and who told us they were behind us one hundred percent – and he said look I can’t take the risk Stephen, you need to back out and you need to endorse Greg Pence.”
MacKenzie explained that this unnamed former Indiana congressman, who initially helped him secure a meeting with House Freedom Caucus members, told him the party would look favorably upon him and help advance his career if would agree to withdraw from the primary.
“He said ‘if you want a future we’ll give you some things, we’ll give you opportunities,’ this whole quid pro quo thing is sickening to me. The very reason he said that to me is the reason I’m running, that system has to be disrupted,” Mackenzie said. “He was trying desperately to justify what he was saying. He said even though I know I said you should stand up against the establishment, blood is thicker than water, I’m getting pressure from the vice president.”
The unnamed congressman resigned his seat ahead of an unsuccessful 2016 campaign for “higher office,” MacKenzie added. This description fits former GOP Indiana Rep. Marlin Stutzman, who vacated his seat in 2015 to enter the Indiana Republican Senate primary, but was defeated by Republican Todd Young, who went on to win the Senate seat in 2016. Stutzman did not respond when asked if he had spoken with MacKenzie.
Indiana businessman P.E. MacAllister, who owns a family run heavy machinery supplier, met with Mackenzie and his wife on two occasions and agreed to serve as honorary chairman for the campaign, but quickly reneged during a third meeting held after Pence announced his candidacy.
“The first two times we met he was all about my husband,” MacKenzie’s wife, Cynthia, told TheDCNF. “The last time we met with him he had definitely changed his tune.”
An email sent from MacAllister to Mackenzie, obtained by TheDCNF, corroborates Cynthia’s account of MacAllister’ change of heart. In the email, MacAllister cites the overwhelming fundraising power behind Pence and implores MacKenzie to stop his campaign or face consequences.
The email reads, in part:
Do you know that Hammond, Bob Grand, Marty Obst, Klipsch, Jim Merritt etc and the local power block are all ready to under write his campaign. If I were you…and if I am right…I’d take another look at the odds and see if there isn’t a better opportunity, if you know what I mean. They will shut you down and block you at every turn. They will give me hell to pay if I continue to support you. Do you realize the hundreds of thousands of dollars these guys can put in the pot and a good many…like Jim Morris on your list…is probably opt to back Pence. I have nothing personal against you but I have known…and supported…Mike Pence for over 25 years and he has been most kind to me. They asked me to tell you to stand down and get out if you know what’s good for you. They will make your future bright or blacklist you here in Indiana. Do the right thing young man!
TheDCNF was unable to reach MacAllister for comment.
Pence’s Campaign Manager, Dan Hennessey, said the broad support he has received thus far is the result of the strong relationships he has established during his time living in the district.
“Greg Pence enjoys broad and deep support from the grassroots to the business leaders across the 6th District because they know Greg reflects the conservative values and commitment to hard work the people of this District expect from their leaders,” Hennessey said. “As a Marine, successful small businessman and community leader, Greg values the relationships he’s built over the nearly sixty years he’s lived in the district and will combine those relationships with the determination of a Marine to be successful in this campaign.”
Hennessey’s emphasis on Pence’s long history in the district highlights a potential factor in MacKenzie’s fundraising difficulties; he was born in Maine, previously ran in Indiana’s fifth district in 2016, and has not yet established residency in the sixth.
“Even though our founding fathers did not make it a requirement that you live in the district you are running for, my wife and I are building a home in the sixth district,” MacKenzie said when asked about his residency. “We are committed to living in the sixth throughout my term unlike our current representative, Luke Messer, who lives in Washington D.C.”
MacKenzie campaign Finance Chairman, Jim Cotterill, attended the final meeting and said MacAllister did not say specifically who warned him against working for Mackenzie’s campaign, describing the individuals only as “the powers that be.”
“Stephen called me up the night before we were supposed to meet with P.E. and he said P.E. gave me a call he’s having second thoughts and they’re trying to get him to back off because Mike Pence’s brother is running,” Cotterill told TheDCNF. “P.E. said he was really sorry but he was going to have to back off because he had been contacted, I forget exactly how he put it, but he had been contacted by the powers that be in the party and they had pretty much warned him that you probably don’t want to be doing this.”
It is unclear exactly who influenced MacAllister and the unnamed congressman, however, MacKenzie told TheDCNF a number of his supporters had been contacted by Marty Obst, a longtime adviser to Mike Pence, who was introduced at a speaking event in October as “Pence’s best friend.” MacKenzie also mentioned Jim Merritt, an Indiana GOP state representative, and Bob Grand, an influential Republican fundraiser in Indiana, all of whom MacAllister mentioned in his email.
Merritt denied that he had taken any action to aid Pence.
“Sen. Mike Crider is a candidate for this office and is a member of my caucus and if I was going to endorse someone I would support him,” Merritt told TheDCNF. “I don’t know who Mr. MacKenzie is, nor do I know who is on his campaign team.”
TheDCNF was unable to reach Grand or Obst for comment.
MacKenzie, who served multiple Air Force Reserve tours in Iraq, said he is confident Mike Pence used his contacts in the Republican establishment to put pressure on him to withdraw. He sees Pence’s involvement in the congressional primary as representative of a systemic issue within the party and American politics more broadly.
“This is the way I look at it, do we want an ordination or an election,” MacKenzie said. “Why have a primary? Lets just give it them if that’s what they want.”
Mike Pence’s office did not respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment in time for publication.
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