By BRIAN A. HOWEY in Kokomo

1. 1st & 9th CD races are percolating

Despite the new congressional maps that seem to be an Indiana Incumbent Protection Plan, there is much activity setting up the 2022 cycle. On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth announced he wouldn't seek reelection. He was self-term limited and apparently is pondering a 2024 run for governor. That prompted State Sen. Erin Houchin, who lost to Hollingsworth in the 2016 GOP primary, to announce on Thursday. She was endorsed by U.S. Reps. Jackie Walorski and Larry Bucshon on Thursday, and today, Attorney General Todd Rokita, who said, "Erin Houchin is just the medicine Congress needs. She’s a no-nonsense conservative pragmatic leader who will help stop The Bumbling Biden-Schumer-Pelosi-AOC express train that is leading us to international embarrassment and financial ruin." Houchin served as Rokita's 2020 GOP convention campaign manager.

A reliable source tells Howey Politics Indiana  that former Republican congressman Mike Sodrel is weighing a bid. He won the seat from U.S. Rep. Baron Hill in 2004 and held it for a term before Hill won it back.

In the 1st CD, former Republican LaPorte mayor Blair Milo announced she would seek the GOP nomination for the right to challenge freshman Democratic Rep. Frank Mrvan. "I feel called to do this," Milo said in an exclusive interview with NWI Times. "We have an opportunity to elect a leader who will fight for Hoosier conservative values." Milo was the youngest mayor elected in LaPorte history before resigning in 2017 when Gov. Eric Holcomb appointed her Secretary for Career Connections and Talent.

2. Is the 1st CD competitive?

Here is HPI Horse Race's  take on the new 1st CD from our Oct. 7 edition after Gov. Holcomb signed the new maps into law: This is the one nominally competitive district coming in at D+7 by FiveThirtyEight (which is outside the normal 5% competitiveness threshold). The 2020 Cook Partisan Index had this as a D+8 district. Freshman U.S. Rep. Frank J. Mrvan looks nominally safe, but in a wave year and with the right candidate, he could be endangered.

3. Sen. Baldwin's bad week

Sen. Scott Baldwin had, perhaps, the worst political week in Indianapolis. The Noblesveille Republican  found himself having say something akin to "Nazism is bad" (anytime you're compelled to make a statement on Nazism, you're having a bad day), his controversial curriculum bill has stalled in the Senate, was skewered by Stephen Colbert on "The Late Show"  and finished the week testing positive from COVID. Earlier this year, Pro Publica reported that Baldwin was a member of the Oath Keepers (Baldwin said he joined the group as a sheriff candidate a decade earlier not realizing it was a radical organization). On Thursday, Oath Keeper leader Stewart Rhodes was indicted on sedition conspiracy charges related to the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection.

4. Hospitals in crisis

Indiana hospitals continue to fill up with mostly unvaccinated Hoosiers in record numbers (13,550 new infections reported Thursday). WRTV: Experts predict the peak of this surge fueled by omicron is still weeks away for Central Indiana. “You're seeing doctors racing around seeing patients addressing acute emergencies such as collapsed lungs, doing procedures,” Dr. Graham Carlos said. "There are actually patients who are actually admitted to the hospital but having to wait in the ER because there’s no beds to move them up into the hospital." IU Northwest economics Associate Prof. Micah Pollak to the IndyStar: "If we hit 20,000 cases a day, 18,000 a day, you can’t staff everything. It’s going to hit everybody and everybody pretty hard and we’re not going to be able to function as an economy.” 

5. School districts are going virtual

The pandemic is forcing Hoosier school districts to go virtual, not because of earlier COVID shutdowns, but because staff and bus drivers are in short supply. Southwest Allen Schools Supt. Park Ginder: “Please be prepared that your student’s school could shift briefly to eLearning with relatively short notice if we are unable to maintain in-person education momentum due to staffing shortages."

Have a safe weekend, folks. It's The Atomic!