SOUTH BEND – Can Pat Hackett overcome Donald Trump? Or to put the possibility of a big upset another way, can President Trump drag down Congresswoman Jackie Walorski? Trump’s name will be on the ballot for president, not for Congress in Indiana’s 2nd District, but even as the congressional candidates discuss many issues, Trump will be the elephant in the room.

If Trump wins again by a landslide in Indiana, Hackett, who won the Democratic congressional nomination in a landslide of her own on Tuesday, will have little chance. If Trump slips badly, with a significant percentage of his 2016 supporters in the district abandoning him over his handling of the coronavirus, protests and the economy, that could hurt Walorski, his supporter in Congress, and give Hackett a better chance for an upset win.

Vote totals provided good news for Hackett in two areas, bad news in another. First the good news. The South Bend attorney in her second quest for the congressional nomination won this time with an impressive show of strength, three to one over Ellen Marks, also an attorney from South Bend, who spent well over a quarter million dollars on the campaign.

Hackett, who matched the funding challenge, was expected to win. The question was whether she would win with momentum for the general election. She won with real momentum. Her effective TV spots were an important factor.

While Hackett, forced to spend heavily in the primary, reported only $58,000 cash on hand in her final Federal Election Commission report – contrasting with $922,500 reported on hand by Walorski – Hackett’s spending wasn’t a waste. Her extensive TV provided a positive introduction of herself to the voters. She tested an organization that obviously delivered. And the show of momentum will bring more contributors.

A second bit of seemingly good news for Hackett was that a virtually unknown Republican primary opponent of Walorski got about 21% of the vote. Why did a fifth of Republican voters pick an unknown over their four-term congresswoman? A sign of Republican defections in the fall? Well, an unknown opponent also got 21% of the vote against Walorski in the 2018 primary. And Walorski went on then to win big for reelection, carrying nine of the 10 counties in the district.

Now the bad news for Hackett from the Tuesday results. The elephant in the room remains the Republican elephant, symbol of the party in Indiana. President Trump captured about 92% of the vote statewide in the Republican primary. He obviously was going to win. But former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld was on the presidential primary ballot to give any Republicans displeased with the president a way to send a message of dissatisfaction. The message? Approval by 92%.    

Biggest surprise: Voters, despite tough times, said “yes” to higher taxes for many of themselves in approving both parts of a referendum on $220 million for South Bend schools. Early in the year, chances of approval appeared to be slim, and Slim was leaving town. The school administration and school board were held in low esteem, deservedly so for controversies over many years.

But community leaders pleaded for approval of needed funding for the struggling school system for the sake of the kids, for the needs of those who teach them, for the future of the community. School officials got their act together with pledged strategic planning.
Could there actually be approval? Slim at least was back in town.

The big surprise was that there wasn’t a slim victory. It was big; 60% approval for one part, 57% for the other part of the ballot question. Voters decided the kids are worth it. The school administration and school board could finally be showing, with prodding from city officials, that they are, too.

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