SOUTH BEND - Indiana’s new 2nd Congressional District, drawn by and for Republicans, will make it difficult for a Democrat to win the House seat now held by Congressman Joe Donnelly, D-Granger.

Charlie Cook, the guru of congressional race prognostication, lists the 2nd now as “likely Republican,” not just “leaning” but “likely.”

How likely?

As Donnelly runs instead for the U.S. Senate, will some other Democrat have a chance to win in the 2nd District, presumably against Republican Jackie Walorski, who almost won last time?

At least two potential Democratic challengers with credentials that could bring substantial support now are deciding whether to give it a try.

They are:

Brendan Mullen, 33, a South Bend native who is a graduate of West Point, where he played football for Army. Mullen served five years on active duty as an officer, including time in Iraq and Korea, and established his own private firm in Washington that provides services for veterans, including returning National Guard and Reserve personnel in Indiana.

Mark Meissner, 41, a former staffer for Evan Bayh and Tim Roemer. Meissner sought the 2nd District Democratic nomination in 2002, finishing second to Jill Long Thompson, who went on to lose in a district then designed by and for Democrats. Meissner now is a senior managing director for a Washington law firm and an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s School of Political Management.

Mullen is moving more quickly toward a decision. He says he is leaning toward a “go” after spending last week meeting with party leaders and other prominent Democrats in St. Joseph County. He plans also to meet with leaders in other counties of the district.

Mullen is at home in the local political world. His father, Pete Mullen, long has been active in St. Joseph County political efforts and now is the county auditor.

There’s no problem with moving back to Indiana, Mullen says, because he and his wife, Suzanne, plan to do so anyway with their 8-month-old daughter, whether he runs or not. He could run his company in Indiana just as well as in Washington, Mullen says. But his wife would have to leave as chief counsel for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Both Meissner and Mullen have talked with strategists for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. And they have met, sharing mutual concerns and views on what it would take to win.
There is certain to be at least one candidate for the Democratic nomination, no matter what the value of it might or might not be.

Goshen lawyer Andrew Straw has announced his candidacy. But party leaders do not regard him as a strong contender. Straw had an unusual approach when he decided to run himself for 2nd District chairman. He lost 15-1 in balloting by the Democratic leaders.

Whether Walorski will have any opponent for the Republican nomination is uncertain. Some Republicans were displeased with her campaign style in losing to Donnelly last time in a big Republican year. But she has name recognition, has strong national backing, is a favorite of tea party voters and was endorsed last week by seven of the 10 county Republican chairmen in the new district.
The district often is described as “Jackie’s district,” drawn by the Republican redistricting architects with her election prospects in mind.
Roll Call, a Washington publication, released its analysis of Indiana’s new districts last week, listing the 2nd as the first House district it has rated as “likely to flip to the other party.”

The publication called removal of Kokomo as “the most devastating change” for Democrats.  Actually, Walorski and Donnelly finished in a virtual tie there. The really devastating blow was the split of LaPorte County, Donnelly’s best county, with removal of the strongly Democratic Michigan City area. Heavily Republican parts of Kosciusko and Elkhart counties were added.

Sources say the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee calculates the district’s Democratic strength, on the basis of past election results, as just over 46 percent.

Does that give a Democrat a reasonable chance?

Probably not - if there is again a strong Republican tide in November 2012. Maybe so - if the tide is instead more favorable for Democrats in 2012. But people like Meissner and Mullen must decide now.

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