By BRIAN A. HOWEY

NASHVILLE, Ind. – As Indiana Democrats gather for their biennial convention in Indianapolis Friday, the blunt force reality is that their hold on the only office voted on by all Hoosiers, the U.S. Senate seat, is now a tossup.
 
The Morning Consult “2018 Midterm Wave Watcher” supplies some statistical gist: Donnelly’s approve/disapprove stood at 41/34%, down from 43/30% in January. But the real heartburn for Democrats is that 44% said it’s “time for a new person” while 31% said Donnelly “deserves reelection.”
 
The Donnelly campaign’s fundraising appeals are also fraught with angst. “We know our emails have been a little panicky lately, but we’re not exaggerating when we say that Joe’s chances of winning in November are no better than a coin flip,” read one Team Donnelly fundraising appeal last week.
 
Another notes: “Here’s the deal … The pollsters are calling this race a toss-up, and that means we’ve got an equally good chance of losing as we do of winning. I’ve heard that before, though. After all, no one thought we’d win in 2012.”
 
The “blue wave” that had been a double-digit advantage for Democrats until May, has turned into a “blue ripple,” as Republicans noted last week in Evansville. On Wednesday Rasmussen Reports puts the congressional generic at 44-40% favoring Democrats, Economist/YouGov has it 43/37% and PPP puts it at 46/40%. Interestingly, Fox News had the widest margin at 48/39% last Friday.
 
And there’s the emergence of Mike Braun as the GOP nominee. HPI always believed he was the GOP’s best-case scenario given the low congressional job approval that would have hounded Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita. On Wednesday, PPP had it at 6% approve, 75% disapprove while Rasmussen had it at 13% approve. Braun is not only unhampered by the abysmal congressional approval, he will turn the tables, using it against Donnelly.
 
Part of our rationale for keeping the Senate race in a “Leans Donnelly” assessment is we wanted to watch Braun’s first month as a nominee. He has avoided all the blunders that Richard Mourdock committed in 2012 when he alienated the Lugar wing of the party, as well as the incendiary rhetoric that prompted the National Republican Senatorial Committee to assign handlers and keep him out of joint appearances. Braun has financial resources. He’s already running his first statewide TV ad for the general featuring his business and employees as an inoculation against Democratic attacks that have already been unleashed.

The Mike Braun we saw in Evansville was on message. While he did embrace the 2014/2016 platform language on marriage, and Donnelly will likely attempt to use that against him, it will not be a determinate factor next fall. This election will be a referendum on President Trump, the economy, and how both the North Korean talks and Trump tariffs fare.
 
So HPI is reclassifying this race. Donnelly is a strong campaigner, many Republicans have been telling us they could vote for him. But many of those Republicans will return to the party if the Indiana seat is deemed the race that could determine control of the Senate. We don’t know whether a report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller will be damning on Trump and the GOP, and we don’t know the impacts of the Trump tariffs. There are a number of scenarios where Donnelly could be reelected.
 
But this is going to be a pure dogfight, between two extremely credible and well-finance candidates. HPI Horse Race: Tossup.
 
Braun’s first general TV ad
 
Braun released his first television advertisement of the general election, titled “Here at Home.” The ad will air zcross the state. Filmed in his hometown of Jasper, the ad features Braun discussing Meyer and why it goes “the extra mile to protect its employees.” Braun says in the ad, “Here at home, our business means jobs for neighbors. Better paychecks means stronger families and stronger communities. Our responsibility is to each other and Washington shirked its responsibility to us. You know, nothing changes and the politicians stay the same. It’s time we change that. At Meyer, we create paychecks for families, provide excellent health care and nearly double the minimum wage. My employees are proud to call Meyer home because we treat them like family. Special interests, funded by Schumer’s money and aligned with Donnelly, insult my employees when they smear Meyer. It’s a disgrace, but it’s what you come to expect from a career politician fighting for his political life.”
 
Indiana Democrats convene

Hoosier Democrats convene for what will be their most critical election cycle since 2010 when U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh’s bolt from the ticket began the party’s descent into super minority status and, perhaps, since 1986 when a young Bayh emerged as the secretary of state nominee. Two years later, Bayh would end a generational Republican stranglehold on the Statehouse.
 
On Saturday, Democrats will nominate Jim Harper of Valparaiso for secretary of state, former East Chicago legislator John Aguilera for treasurer and former Marion City Council President Joselyn Whitticker for auditor. All will be distinct underdogs in their races against Secretary of State Connie Lawson, Treasurer Kelly Mitchell and Auditor Tera Klutz.
 
Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will address the convention at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Holder is chair of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a collaborative effort to end gerrymandering. “Indiana is ground zero for the fight to ensure fair elections and redistricting reform,” Indiana Democratic Chairman John Zody said. “I know Hoosier Democrats will be excited to hear Attorney General Holder’s focus on ending gerrymandering.” But that will hardly be a clarion issue for voters in the fall.
 
Democrats do have some positives going into this cycle. They recruited 103 General Assembly candidates, compared to 83 in 2014. There are three female congressional nominees and one, 9th CD nominee Liz Watson has a shot at winning, particularly if a Democrat wave develops. When HPI presented its initial House and Senate forecasts in May, most of the candidates had websites and Facebook pages, a departure from past cycles when a number of nominees had no online presence. Democrats have 52 female legislative candidates, up from 22 in 2014, and have 27 Millennial candidates, up from nine in 2014.
 
While Democrat insiders insist that this weekend is all about the 2018 mid-terms, the sub-plot will be who is likely to emerge for the 2020 gubernatorial race. Thus far, only 2012 and 2016 nominee John Gregg has been active on social media and stumping for candidates this year, though 2016 lieutenant governor nominee Christina Hale has been active on the county dinner circuit. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is preparing for a presidential run, having met with former President Barack Obama, who has reached out to nine potential contenders. Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, Jr. did not respond to an HPI inquiry on whether he might seek the nomination. Other potential contenders would include Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and former Evansville mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel.
 
Earlier this year, Chairman Zody said that a serious 2020 gubernatorial nominee should be out stumping for mid-term candidates. Thus far, only Gregg and Hale are working that circuit.

Buttigieg getting married Saturday

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a rising star in the Democratic party, will marry his partner Chasten Glezman on Saturday, as the city’s LGBT Pride week comes to an end (IndyStar). The 36-year-old also will be notably missing from the Indiana Democratic Party State Convention, which is the same day in Indianapolis.  The couple is getting married at The Cathedral of Saint James Episcopal church at 4 p.m. Saturday. The ceremony will be carried on the church’s live stream. (Search “St. James South Bend” at youtube.com.)
 
Congress
 
4th CD: Baird attends White House signing
 
State Rep. Jim Baird (R-Greencastle) was at the White House Wednesday when a new VA bill was signed into law (Greencastle Banner-Graphic). President Donald Trump signed the VA Mission Act of 2018. Besides being the state representative for District 44, Baird is also the Republican nominee to be the next U.S. congressman from Indiana’s 4th District. In November, he will face off against Democrat Tobi Beck of Avon. Horse Race Status: Safe Baird.

8th CD: Tanoos calls for reefer legalization
 
William Tanoos, Democratic candidate for Congress in Indiana’s 8th District, has come out in favor of the legalization of marijuana (Taylor, Terre Haute Tribune-Star). His opponent, incumbent U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-Newburgh, made it clear he remains opposed. Tanoos, a Terre Haute attorney, has stated his position in a video on his campaign website in which he expressed the belief the action would help fight the opioid crisis and provide a boost to Hoosier farmers. “Taxing and regulating [marijuana] is the safe and fiscally responsible thing to do,” he added. “It will alleviate the burdens of our criminal justice system.” Tanoos concluded the 30-second video, produced as a campaign commercial that also appears on YouTube, by saying legalizing marijuana could help a veteran and is “simply … the right thing to do.” In an interview this week, he called marijuana legalization “a matter of common sense policy.” HPI Horse Race: Safe Bucshon.
 
9th CD: Hollingsworth mum on debating
 
Democrat Liz Watson’s campaign is saying U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth is ignoring its call for debates. “Back on May 23rd the Liz for Indiana campaign officially invited Trey Hollingsworth to debate Liz in all 13 counties,” campaign manager Brian Peters told HPI. “We got a reply on June 1 saying the congressman was interested in debating, and that they would take a serious look at every invitation. We have sent the Hollingsworth campaign seven dates. We made sure the dates were on days where no votes are scheduled, and we have reached out to a few of you to partner up. My plan was to partner with local media to make sure the debates were fair to both campaigns. We have gotten zero responses. We will continue to reach out to his campaign because this election is important.” Horse Race Status: Leans Hollingsworth.
 
General Assembly
 
HD26: Democrat emerges
 
State Democratic Party leaders on Tuesday called for a June 27 caucus to slate a vacancy in Indiana House District 26 in the November election, signaling that Chris Campbell of West Lafayette plans to run (Bangert, Lafayette Journal & Courier).  Campbell will challenge first term Rep. Sally Siegrist. John Zody, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, said Campbell, a member of the West Lafayette Redevelopment Commission, would file her candidacy Wednesday. On Tuesday, Campbell removed her name as a candidate for the Wabash Township Board. Horse Race Status: Leans Siegrist.
 
Bray’s pro tem margin was 27-14
 
Multiple sources have refuted a report that Sen. Rodric Bray defeated Sen. Travis Holdman by a single vote for the Senate president pro tempore position on May 14. A source told HPI after sine die that the margin was a single vote. But several informed and reliable sources say the final margin was 27-14. Senate President Pro Tempore David Long participated in the vote, which came even though there will be four new senators when the official vote occurs the day after the November election. Democrats will participate in that vote.
 
Local
 
Hermann, Levco clash in Vanderburgh
 
Stan Levco and Nick Hermann will trade stinging critiques of their respective tenures in the Vanderburgh County prosecutor’s office as they battle for a third time to become the people’s advocate in court (Langhorne, Evansville Courier & Press). That much was clear from Democrat Levco’s brief announcement at the Old Courthouse that he will challenge Republican prosecutor Hermann this year, and from Hermann’s response immediately afterward. The men are longtime antagonists. Hermann unsuccessfully challenged Levco when the latter was in office in 2006. In 2010, he succeeded in ousting Levco. Now, after several years as a statewide special prosecutor, Levco is the one challenging Hermann. He took to that task with a whoop and a holler Thursday, calling Hermann incompetent, ineffective and a self-promoter. “One thing I believe Mr. Hermann has done well is to promote himself. He’s buried the ineffectiveness of his office in commercials, publicity efforts and We Tip promotions. It doesn’t matter how many tips he gets if he can’t convict,” Levco said. “... I will devote my efforts to effective prosecution, not self-promotion.” Shortly afterward in his office, Hermann said voters rejected Levco in 2010 because the Democrat wasn’t aggressive enough in charging decisions and at trial. “The reason I left his office (as a deputy prosecutor in 2004) was, I had a big case, something I had been working on, and it was taken in and pleaded without my knowledge, without the case file, by another attorney the day before we were supposed to go to trial. I was reading about it in the paper,” Hermann said.
 
Mayor: Valparaiso councilwoman running
 
With a platform of making Valparaiso more welcome to all, City Councilwoman Deb Porter announced her candidacy for mayor Monday evening on the steps of City Hall (Lavalley, Post-Tribune). Introduced by fellow Councilwoman Diana Reed, D-1st, and surrounded by about three dozen supporters, including members of the Portage City Council, Porter pledged to increase accessibility throughout the city for people seeking affordable housing and those with disabilities, as well as tackling the community’s ongoing opioid epidemic and making city government more responsive.

Mayor: Jensen declares in Noblesville

Chris Jensen, a life-long Noblesville resident, officially announced his candidacy for mayor of Noblesville. Jensen made this special announcement to a group of supporters which included guest speakers State Sen. Luke Kenley and State Rep. Kathy Richardson at BlueSky Technology Partners. “Our city is growing and is facing new opportunities and challenges. I believe I am the right person to lead our city into its next chapter,” said Jensen. Currently, Jensen is the Noblesville Common Council President, and has served on the finance, parks, economic development and roads committees over the last two years.  As mayor, Jensen would bring transparency and a fresh vision. His background in the public and private sectors, working closely with government entities, have played a strong role in his decision to run for mayor. Prior to his current role as a client service manager for Lochmueller Group, Jensen served many years in the office of former Lt. Governor Becky Skillman as special assistant and director of intergovernmental affairs. Jensen was also executive director of the 2016 Indiana Bicentennial Commission. 

National
 
Sen. Young eyes NRSC helm
 
Sen. Todd Young, a freshman senator from a battleground state, is talking to colleagues about becoming the next chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, according to Republican sources (The Hill). Young helped Republicans keep their majority two years ago by defeating former Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh, who was the heavy favorite initially, to win election to the Senate in the 2016 cycle. Bayh had an early 20-point lead in the race as well as more than $9 million in his campaign account from his previous time in the Senate. Young defied early predictions by defeating Bayh by 10 points, 52 percent to 42%. “There are a lot of members who really like the idea of him doing it. He’s the giant-killer, he knocked off Evan Bayh when nobody thought he could do it with less money,” said a GOP source.

Pence raises $3.2M

Vice President Mike Pence and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy raised $3.2 million last night in their “Protect The House” program. Protect the House is a committee designed to help vulnerable House Republicans.