FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Indiana’s only declared candidate in the 2024 governor’s race begins his 92 county listening tour today, but not before sitting down with WANE 15.

Eric Doden sent a message to potential Republican candidates with his first report to the Indiana Election Division. He raised nearly $1 million to signal this race will likely be expensive and he will be able to compete in any ad war across Indiana’s multiple TV markets. But will voters respond to his message?

Doden does not like mandates from the state. “I don’t really think government should be mandating things,” he starts. “I think government’s role is to educate.” He says he would not have imposed a statewide mask mandate to curb COVID-19 but would have allowed cities and counties to require Hoosiers to mask up if they determined a local need.

“I think a lot of what should happen is between you and your health provider – even in terms of vaccination. I know I certainly asked my health provider, ‘should I be vaccinated?’ They had a very strong opinion that, given the fact that I had already had some immunity to COVID that I should not. They may change their mind but that’s between me and my health provider.”

Doden met WANE 15 at The Ventry apartments, his recent development on Fort Wayne’s southwest side. “It was an old movie theater that was no longer in use,” Doden explains. “It was a distressed piece of property.”

He’s running, he says, to help Indiana’s smaller towns with their distressed properties. “We have about 80 cities that are between 2,500 and 30,000 (people). And in a lot of those cities, and we’ve started studying this, about 80% of their of their core historic assets are in distress.”

He offers the $30 million renovation of The Landing as a recent Fort Wayne example. When those assets are improved “it really benefits everybody. It creates community pride. It creates an excitement and energy in the city and the community. Then that trickles down into an environment that helps everyone have more opportunities.”

The Landing, and many projects like it, benefitted from the Indiana Regional Cities Initiative which Doden spearheaded as leader of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation around 2014. “(Governor) Mike Pence challenged me to come up with something that would inspire our kids and grandkids to stay here and to use their talents here. Within one year, we had almost a billion dollars worth of private investment to improve communities. We want to do that over and over and over again.”

Doden touts his time as head of Greater Fort Wayne, Inc., the city’s chamber of commerce, when investment in downtown grew rapidly. The pace sometimes created friction with city hall, which Doden thought moved too slowly. His was unsuccessful in his 2011 run for mayor, coming in third of five in the GOP primary, behind (now state senator) Liz Brown and winner Paula Hughes, who lost to Tom Henry (D) in the general election.

Doden says he has plans to help fund Indiana schools, including raising teacher pay, but he’s not ready to release the details. “We need to continue to improve education on all fronts. All my kids now are in high school. They’re getting ready to go to college and I understand the importance of education both private and public. We need to make sure that we have policies that make it easier for teachers to teach and make it better for kids in the education experience.”

Doden cites former governor Mitch Daniels among his political role models. “I watched his drive for results and the way that he led. He certainly inspired me. On a very personal level, as someone who coached and mentored me since I was about 25, was Jon Costas, the former mayor of Valparaiso, who’s still a coach. I really watched what he did in Valparaiso and it inspired me to get engaged here in Fort Wayne in a deeper way and I admire and respect him deeply.”