Indiana Attorney General Zoeller running for Congress

FILE (WISH photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — It’s an unusual move that has insiders suggesting Zoeller is distancing himself from Gov. Mike Pence.

Zoeller is a Republican who is unwilling to criticize Pence publicly, but he will tell you that there was no reason to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — at least not yet.

He just made a move that means he won’t be on the statewide ticket with Pence in 2016.

Zoeller made the announcement Monday in Jeffersonville that he is running for Congress in the 9th District.

He wants to go to Washington. “I will be a tireless advocate,” he said, “for law enforcement, our criminal justice system, homeland security and national defense.”

Zoeller was bashing Washington on Election night 2012. “We’re not going to wait for Washington,” he said in his victory speech.

If you’re wondering what has changed between then and now, the RFRA controversy stands out.

RFRA opponent and political strategist Bill Oesterle says Zoeller is a smart guy.

“He understands where the party is on a statewide basis right now,” said Oesterle, “and he’s trying to plot a course inside of that.”

He went on to say: “He’s a very good politician, very capable guy. He pays attention to events.”

Leaving a ticket that will likely be led by Mike Pence is still eye-catching.

“I’d say it’s very unusual for a statewide elected official to leave what seems to be a pretty safe re-election,” said GOP strategist Jennifer Hallowell, “to get into a contested, highly competitive Congressional race.”

Zoeller is the third Republican in the 9th District race so far.

He said he’s not running away from a job but admitted that advisers are worried that Pence may lose.

He was in one meeting where an unnamed adviser warned him against “being the baby that gets thrown out with the bath water.”

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