WASHINGTON – Christina Hale is emphasizing bipartisanship in her attempt to win the 5th CD seat being vacated by the most bipartisan member of the Hoosier congressional delegation.

Her first television ad, launched earlier this week, extols Hale’s ability to work across the aisle. The narrator says she passed 60 bills as a state legislator – all with bipartisan support. The spot said such a virtue is critical as Congress wrestles with the coronavirus outbreak. “Rebuilding will be our next test, and we can’t afford partisan bickering,” the narrator says. “We need problem solvers.”

Hale is hoping that theme will strike a chord in the race to replace retiring Republican Rep. Susan Brooks, who achieved the highest score among Hoosier members of Congress in the latest Bipartisan Index.

The survey, released last week and sponsored by the Lugar Center and the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy, measures the extent to which lawmakers work with members of the opposite party in writing and co-sponsoring legislation. 

The question is whether Hale’s bet on bipartisanship will pay off at a time of extreme political polarization. Dan Diller, policy director at the Lugar Center, said the issue can gain traction.

“It’s always a winner in November, especially in a district that’s proven to support a very bipartisan member, which Brooks is,” Diller said.

Hale is favored to win the Democratic primary on June 2. She would face one of 15 Republicans running for Brooks’ seat. The 5th CD, which stretches from Marion to the northside of Indianapolis, has a strong Republican orientation.

It will be difficult for Hale to find voters who will split their ticket, but casting herself as someone who can work with Republicans could help her in the Indianapolis suburbs, said Chad Kinsella, assistant professor of political science at Ball State University.

“That might resonate with just enough people to peal off some votes, which would be key to that race,” Kinsella said.

Hale brandished bipartisanship in responding to the latest pandemic recovery legislation, a $3 trillion bill the House approved, 208-199, with 14 Democrats voting against it. Republicans have dismissed the legislation as a wish list of liberal priorities that has no chance in the Senate.

Hale praised parts of the legislation without revealing her own position on the measure. “We must provide immediate relief to our communities so emergency responders and frontline workers have the resources they need, the hundreds of thousands of unemployed Hoosiers can keep a roof over their heads and food on their tables, and small- and medium-sized businesses are able to keep their doors open beyond this crisis,” Hale said in a statement. “These efforts must be bipartisan to be successful. I have a proven record of reaching across the aisle to get things done for my constituents when I was a state legislator, and I’ll continue doing just that when I’m elected to Congress.”

Hale’s campaign manager, Joann Saridakis, would not say how Hale would have voted on the bill.

Republicans labeled the bill partisan and unworkable. It focused on aid to state and local governments, the unemployed and health care workers.

Democrats and Republicans are likely to come together on some kind of agreement for the next phase of coronavirus relief, Diller said. “Congress in a crisis is always going to find a way to spend money,” Diller said. “This is a temporary blockage.”

Hoosier Republican Sen. Todd Young is taking a bipartisan tack by teaming with Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., on a bill, the Reviving the Economy Sustainably Towards a Recovery in 2020 (RESTART) Act. It would provide loans for small- and medium-size businesses and, the lawmakers say, fix problems with the Paycheck Protection Program.

Young ranks as the 36th most bipartisan senator on the Bipartisan Index. The Lugar Center is a policy organization established by the late Sen. Richard Lugar.

But working across the aisle will become much harder for Young and his colleagues once Congress moves past the necessary pandemic crisis spending, which has already resulted in a federal deficit projected to be $3.8 trillion in fiscal 2020.

In order to tackle the gaping shortfall, Democrats will have to compromise on entitlement spending and Republicans will have to compromise on tax hikes, Diller said. “The tougher partisan problem comes later, when you need to address a fiscal situation that requires both parties to bend on their most closely held priorities,” Diller said. 

Disclosure: The author is a former Lugar aide who has made monetary contributions to the Lugar Center. He is HPI’s Washington correspondent.