Jack Colwell: Trump's slide pushes Walorski into a race
Thursday, October 27, 2016 9:14 AM
SOUTH BEND – Two things seemed certain last summer as folks around South Bend looked ahead to the fall sports of football and politics: Notre Dame would beat underdog Duke easily in football and Jackie Walorski would beat some guy named Coleman easily for Congress. You could bet on it. Some did, on the football game. What though the odds, Duke won over defenseless Notre Dame.
Now, how about that political certainty? That certainty of reelection of Congresswoman Walorski, much better funded, much better known and much better situated in a Republican-flavored district in which she carried nine of the 10 counties last time? Walorski isn’t defenseless, not with all the money she has for TV. She has begun hitting Democratic challenger Lynn Coleman with negative TV ads, no longer acting as though he isn’t there.
Coleman, a former South Bend police officer and mayoral assistant, has gained name recognition and more support than might have been expected last summer. But Coleman can’t win. Not on his own. Just as Duke needed help from a bizarre Notre Dame defense, Coleman needs help from a bizarre Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump. And Trump is helping. Enough?
St. Joseph County Democratic Chairman Jason Critchlow says Coleman can counter Walorski’s air game, all that TV, with a far superior ground game – workers knocking on doors, making calls, identifying potential supporters and getting them to the polls – thus enabling Coleman to take advantage of any anti-Trump tide and win.
There is a tide. All the polls show it. The question is whether the waves will just annoyingly splash Republican candidates, not really endangering summer favorites like Walorski, or whether waves approach a tsunami, sweeping away Republican control of the Senate and even defeating some “sure bet” House Republicans.
Speculation grew about a really strong tide helping Democrats in Indiana with polls showing Hillary Clinton close to a tie with Trump in the state, and the Democratic nominees for governor, John Gregg, and for senator, Evan Bayh, pulling ahead, Gregg by double digits in one poll.
Then the Clinton campaign, confident of winning in battleground states, tossed a half million dollars into an effort in Indiana. Indiana votes so heavily Republican in most presidential elections that it’s often the first state projected by the TV networks as in the Republican column on election night. Still, the state went for Barack Obama in 2008, first time since 1964 that Hoosiers voted for a Democratic presidential nominee.
National experts in their ratings still list Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District as “likely” Republican, downgraded from “safe” for Walorski back in the summer. Howey Politics Indiana lists the race as “leans Walorski,” but Brian Howey says in analysis that “a Trump-created tsunami could swamp Walorski.” Voter enthusiasm and what Trump has done to it could be decisive.
Will Democrats and those Republicans and independents who are appalled by Trump be energized to go to the polls to repudiate him or will a lack of enthusiasm for Clinton keep a lot of them away?
Will Hoosiers who were enthused about Trump back when he won the Indiana presidential primary storm to the polls for him or react differently as a result of the controversies swirling around him?
Will most Hoosier Republicans, even if they dislike Trump, still be enthused about getting to the polls to vote for other Republican candidates or will any significant percentage skip the election in disgust?
To take advantage of an anti-Trump tide, Coleman will need more than just the big get-out-the-vote drive in Democratic St. Joseph County. He also will need to win at least a couple of the other nine counties and hold down the huge pluralities Walorski won in 2014 in Elkhart County and some of the other solidly Republican areas. If he can do enough and Trump has done enough, the certainty of summer might not be so certain this November.
Colwell has covered Indiana politics over five decades for the South Bend Tribune.