Earlier today on Twitter, Adam Kirsch asked me the following question:
Hey @trevorfoughty, has an Incumbent Governor of Indiana ever been successfully primaried?
— Adam Kirsch (@adamdkirsch) April 16, 2015
The technical answer to that question is no. But when Indiana rewrote the state constitution in 1851, governors were limited to one four-year term, and that wasn’t amended until 1970 when they were allowed to run for two four-year terms. Before 1851, governors could run for two three-year terms, but there weren’t primary elections for incumbents to run in: They were chosen at party nominating conventions by a small group of delegates.
If we construe the question to mean only primary elections, then the answer is no. But if we include nominating conventions, the answer is yes: David Wallace had the misfortune of being elected in 1837, the year a major financial crisis hit the country and ushered in a recession that would last through the mid-1840’s. When he ran for renomination at the Whig State Convention in 1840, he was defeated by Samuel Bigger. He’s the only Indiana governor to lose a renomination contest, but again, the sample size doesn’t cover all 199 years of state history.
Coincidentally, while Wallace is the only governor to lose a renominating contest, Bigger is the only duly-elected governor to lose a general election when he ran for re-election in 1843. Two other sitting governors have lost (Ira J. Chase and Joe Kernan), but both were lieutenant governors who ascended to the office upon the death of their predecessors. Again, our sample size here is a bit limited since governors couldn’t usually run for a second term.