SOUTH BEND – If an 80-1 longshot can win the Kentucky Derby, can Democrat Tom McDermott win the U.S Senate race in Indiana?

Upsets do happen, in politics as well as in sports. But chances of McDermott defeating Republican Sen. Todd Young this fall in Indiana, where no Democrat has won a statewide race in a decade, appear worse than those faced by the Derby winner. Rich Strike at least began the race from the same starting line.
     
McDermott starts from way back, in name recognition, funding and organization. And he’s running on an unfavorable bright red track in a red state carried twice in landslides by Donald Trump.
     
Still, McDermott could be a winner in losing, just as an underdog sports team wins respect and encourages its fans about the future by competing impressively even though a championship is out of reach. That’s the realistic hope of Hoosier Democrats. Also, of course, you never say never, no matter the odds.
     
Indiana Democrats sank so low in 2020 that their nominee for governor, the forgettable Woody Myers, their ticket leader, didn’t even get a third of the vote. It was a joke.
     
McDermott is no joke. He is a five-term mayor of Hammond, winning big there now after breaking a 20-year Republican hold on the mayor’s office. The 53-year-old Notre Dame Law School graduate long has been talked about as a potential statewide candidate. He is a Navy veteran who served on a nuclear submarine.
     
To be competitive against Young, a highly formidable incumbent, McDermott must count on fundraising help to get his message out statewide and on three issues looming in importance.
     
Funding? At the end of the first quarter of the year, Young had $6.1 million cash on hand; McDermott had $248,000. Money isn’t everything, but McDermott must do better for a first-class campaign.
     
Issues?  

Abortion: The expected Supreme Court decision striking down Roe v. Wade will incentivize women supporting abortion rights to vote. McDermott agrees with them. Those with opposite views, supporting the end of Roe, also will have incentive to vote. Young agrees with ending Roe. In some states, there will be a significant advantage for Democrats on this issue. In Indiana, any Democratic advantage could be smaller.
     
Infrastructure: Young, although involved in bipartisan negotiations on the infrastructure bill, voted against it. Infrastructure improvements, including significant ones for Indiana, are popular. And McDermott hits at Young for voting against them. One theory for why Young voted “no” as the bill headed for passage is that he did so to avoid a Trump endorsement of a Republican primary opponent, something that would have been a problem in Trumpiana. Young ended up without a primary opponent. He also hasn’t been endorsed by Trump, no doubt because he voted to accept the Electoral College results and described Marjorie Taylor Greene, a favorite Trump conspiracy theorist, as “nutty.”
     
Marijuana: McDermott, advocating legalization of marijuana, released a campaign ad showing him smoking marijuana. The filming was in Illinois, where it has been legalized. The appeal is to young potential voters who usually don’t cast ballots in non-presidential elections. If they vote, they will tend to vote Democratic.
     
Is there a chance for Democrats to win control of the Indiana House or Senate? No. But it would be a significant step if at least Republicans didn’t continue with supermajorities that relegate Democratic legislators to hopelessness.
     
Could Democrats win a statewide race and more than just two U.S. House seats? Probably not. But chances could improve with an effective ticket leader.
     
Could McDermott, such a longshot, actually win the race? Well, both McDermott, seeking to revive Democratic hopes, and Young, seeking to avoid Republican complacency, would cite the sage advice attributed to that great analyst Yogi Berra: “It ain’t over till it’s over.” 

Colwell is a columnist for the South Bend Tribune.