SOUTH BEND – Let’s look at the color of the counties, all 10 in Indiana’s 2nd CD. In 2016, nine were red and one was blue. That combination gave the district a deep red hue as Republican Congresswoman Jackie Walorski won big in reelection to her third term.

Only St. Joseph County was blue that night. And even so it was a very pale blue. Walorski darn near carried the largest and most Democratic county in the district. She also won big, very big, in 2014, with a similar color scheme across the district, nine red counties, one blue.

It will be a closer race this time, as Democrat Mel Hall, unlike her two prior Democratic challengers, has the resources and organization to threaten a possible upset of the entrenched incumbent.

Walorski, realizing the threat and responding to it, agreed to two televised debates this time — winning the first, losing the second — and has found it necessary to hit her opponent with negative TV ads to counter the positive image Hall established earlier in the race.

Could the district change its color? National analysts think it unlikely. But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which didn’t waste resources on doomed Democratic challengers in the two prior elections, now designates the 2nd CD as part of its “Red to Blue” program. That’s the effort to flip districts from Republican incumbents to Democratic challengers in the quest for control of the House.

The designation may have come on late, but it is significant. The DCCC doesn’t spend a cent in a district, no matter how great the party’s nominee seems personally, if there’s no chance to win. Decisions are pragmatic, not sentimental. The candidates have polls, but they won’t divulge results publicly. However, the Hall campaign provided results of its professional poll to the DCCC before the committee decided that Hall was close enough to merit priority consideration. If Hall is to win, he needs to do a lot of coloring. He must turn St. Joseph County from pale blue to bright blue, and turn the portions of LaPorte County and Starke County from red to blue. Elkhart County, which in 2016 provided Walorski with a plurality nearly 10 times the size of the Democratic margin in St. Joseph County, will nearly guarantee a Walorski win if it remains such a vivid shade of red. Hall needs both a blue tsunami in St. Joseph County and a way to hold back some of Elkhart County’s crimson tide.

The other six counties, Fulton, Kosciusko, Marshall, Miami, Pulaski and Wabash, have been voting strongly Republican in congressional contests, just as Republicans envisioned in the Republican-controlled redistricting process. While some of these counties are relatively small in population, each one of them provided a bigger Republican margin than the Democratic margin in St. Joseph County during the last election.

It’s highly unlikely that Hall will carry any of these six counties. And he certainly won’t carry Elkhart County. His hope in campaigning in those areas is to add a little blue coloring to turn some key areas a bit purple.

His plan relies on a lot of moving parts: Swing voter issues, especially health care; reaction to negative TV ads, which usually work; views on President Trump, whether to empower or restrain him; and the Senate race, particularly whether Sen. Joe Donnelly runs strong in his former House district.

How the 10 counties are shaded, and whether those reds and blues are vivid or pale, will determine the color of Indiana’s 2nd CD when the TV networks light up the map on election night. 

Colwell has covered Indiana politics over five decades for the South Bend Tribune.