Democratic 9th CD nominee Liz Watson with former congressmen Lee Hamilton (left) and Baron Hill.
Democratic 9th CD nominee Liz Watson with former congressmen Lee Hamilton (left) and Baron Hill.

By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS –  In the context of the mid-terms and congressional races, all eyes are on Indiana’s 2nd and 9th CDs where Democrats Mel Hall and Liz Watson have raised significant money in their challenges to U.S. Reps. Jackie Walorski and Trey Hollingsworth.
 
Last week, Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball moved both the 2nd and 9th CDs from the “Safe Republican” column into the “Likely Republican” column. And a fresh spate of polling shows that President Trump has alienated suburban women over the tax reforms and the migrant family separations as well as his controversies with porn stars and Playmates. While the 9th CD is +13 Republican on the Cook Partisan Index, it is home to two pockets of suburban women, in Johnson County near Indianapolis and Floyd and Clark counties, north of Louisville.
 
Watson posted $501,065 for the second quarter on her July 15 FEC report, raising $1,072,696 for the cycle with an ending balance of $471,347. Rep. Hollingsworth raised $228,942 for the second quarter and $1,150,272 for the cycle, and had $608,575 cash on hand. 
 
Democrats have held the 9th CD for 44 out of the last 53 years; current Indiana Senator Todd Young served three terms in the district, while Mike Sodrel and Hollingworth served one term each. While it has been reliably Republican over the last decade, a candidate like Watson, a former Democratic researcher on Capitol Hill who came back to Bloomington to teach at Indiana University, has a chance to pull off an upset in what could be a developing Democratic wave environment. It will be tough, since Rep. Hollingworth and his father pumped more than $4 million of their personal fortune to win the nomination against Republicans Greg Zoeller, Erin Houchin and Brent Waltz in 2016, then defeating Democrat Shelli Yoder in the general. A Watson victory would be considered a true upset.
 
She was endorsed by former Reps. Lee Hamilton and Baron Hill, and finds former 4th CD congresswoman Jill Long Thompson on the IU faculty, where she draws on their collective campaign experiences. 
 
HPI sat down with Watson at the Hyatt Hotel in Indianapolis last Friday for this HPI Interview where she assailed Hollingsworth as a “carpetbagger” who “bought” the 9th CD in 2016. She also called him a “coward” for remaining silent on Russian assaults on the U.S. election system. 
 
HPI:  Tell me where you think your campaign is at this point in the cycle?
 
Watson: We’re running a really strong campaign to win back Indiana’s 9th District, to stop the war on working families and have a representative who will fight for Hoosiers, and who is a Hoosier. I’m Liz Watson, running in the 9th and I’m taking on Trey Hollingsworth, the guy from Tennessee who carpetbagged in, between him and his dad plunked down $4.5 million in the last election and took advantage of the down-ticket Trump effect to buy themselves a seat in Congress. I think the race is going really strong for us. We’ve seen Sabato just moved our numbers, we’re now the only Red to Blue Race (by the DCCC) in Indiana. That’s a recognition of the incredible grassroots campaign we’re running. We were able to knock on 20,339 doors in our primary campaign. I taking door-knocking seriously. We’re going to surpass that in the general election. We have an army of volunteers of folks who know how much is at stake in November. It’s a time when people are doing everything they can to get out and talk to friends and neighbors about the importance of voting. They realize elections matter.
 
HPI: We’re seeing real financial traction with your campaign, along with Courtney Tritch in the 3rd and Mel Hall in the 2nd. Is raising money what you thought it was going to be like, or has it been easier?
 
Watson: As the only Red to Blue candidate, folks are pretty excited about my campaign. We raised a half million dollars in the last quarter. That was double what Trey raised. The most important thing about that was upwards of 80% of our donations were from individuals and the rest was from labor unions  or grassroots organization. I don’t take any corporate PAC money. If you look at Hollingsworth’s donations, they were upwards of 80% corporate or PAC money and almost no individual support. We’ve had over 48,000 individual donations to our campaign. He’s completely financed by Wall Street, giant corporations and special interests, and it’s reflected in his votes in Congress. I am supported by hardworking Hoosiers who are coming together to take back a seat and get somebody who’s going to fight for us and not that 1% billionaire class. 
 
HPI: Are you expecting dad to come in with another one or two million this cycle? I’m not talking about your dad, but his dad.
 
Watson: That’s funny. My dad is a pretty good babysitter for my children, so when we’re on the campaign trail it’s very helpful. Trey’s dad did plunk down a lot of money into his Super PAC and Trey himself wrote himself a $3 million check as well. We know he has the capacity to do that. That’s why we’re working so hard to raise the money to defeat him. It’s really important to get our message out to Hoosiers. It’s a tragedy that Hoosiers are being ripped off by a multi-millionaire from Tennessee who purchased his own seat in Congress and is using it as his own personal cash register. You think about what he’s done since he got there, he spent $4.5 million on the seat. And $4.5 million is exactly what he got in the tax cut from passing the tax scam in the dead of night in December. That’s the return on his investment he’s already recouped. That’s why he is going to go back and double his money. We’re not going to let him. And that was the single largest tax cut to any member of the House. It went to our representative, while bringing no money back to the district.
 
HPI: Do you hear the carpetbagger sentiment a lot when you talk to voters? From Republican voters?
 
Watson: Oh, yeah. I was at a very large meeting today at a union hall and I got up and talked and was talking about the importance of having candidates who are going to fight for working people and working families. Someone said as I sat down, “Go get that carpetbagger.” So, yeah.
 
HPI: Are you micro targeting your base and independents? Or are you going to Republican households?
 
Watson: We have a message that resonates across the electorate, with voters who want health care, to make sure they can fill their prescriptions, who want to solve the opioid crisis, who want to make sure labor unions, the backbone of the middle class, can survive in this country. We want to make sure our public schools are strong for our kids. So that’s a message we share with voters and that’s how voters who have never voted before have responded. They show up to my town halls. I have hosted town halls across the district on issues that matter to Hoosiers in their kitchen table struggles, in their daily lives, and folks show up who are not necessarily political. They are showing up to talk about their problems and we need to work together to solve them. Now my opponent hasn’t held a single town hall and, in fact, cancelled the one and only town hall he was supposed to hold when I announced I was going.  That was the town hall before the vote to give 83% of the benefits of tax bill to the top 1%, to go after Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security and drive a $1.5 trillion hole in our deficit. He voted for that, and he refused to meet with us first.
 
HPI: Rep. Hollingsworth cited a “security” concern with that town hall. Was there a security threat?
 
Watson: I worked very hard to run that down. I certainly wasn’t going to show up with my supporters if that was the case because I wouldn’t want to put anyone in harm’s way. I could find no evidence.
 
HPI: You have touted your union backing, and yet in 2016 we saw a lot of union members who voted for Donald Trump here in Indiana. Are you sensing any erosion in the union support for President Trump?
 
Watson: I’m sensing a lot of support for me, no matter who people voted for at the presidential level. When I talk with men and women in labor unions to fight back against right-to-work legislation that Trey Hollingsworth supports, when I talk about the need to maintain safety and health protections on the job, when I talk about registered union membership which is a path to the middle class in Southern Indiana, those are things people want to fight for. Those are things I have been fighting for.
 
HPI: What kind of bumps in pay checks are people saying they’re getting due to the tax reforms? I am asking that question to all sorts of different folks around the state this year?
 
Watson: One guy I heard, who was filling up his tank of gas, “There went my tax cut.” While Trey Hollingworth got $4.5 million. We want fair tax cuts for working and middle class families. What we’re seeing from this tax law is that wages have taken a nose dive. In the second quarter hourly workers’ pay took a 9.5% dive overnight, according to Bloomberg. Since the tax law we’re seeing hourly workers pay go down. This trickle down economic idea has never worked. This idea that working people were going to get a raise, they haven’t seen a big bump in their paycheck. The truth is hourly workers’ wages haven’t gone up for a very long time. Most people are living paycheck to paycheck. A lot of people haven’t seen a raise. This tax cut is about the 1% and there was this illusion this was about the middle class. This was about making sure that Trey Hollingsworth and his millionaire and billionaire friends could buy another yacht. Plain and simple. I think we ought to be about restoring the middle class in this country.
 
HPI: What are voters telling you about Obamacare?
 
Watson: Guess what? I have some bad news for you. In Southern Indiana next year, premiums are set to rise to $2,200 for the average family of four. What that is about is the actions this Congress has taken by repealing the individual coverage mandate and trying to break the ACA in various ways, it’s resulted in premiums skyrocketing. We know there’s a big need to improve on the ACA, but instead of trying to improve, they’re sabotaging it and breaking it. We need to cover the 48,000 uninsured in our district. We need to bring down the health care costs, we need to bring down the cost of prescriptions. We need to do those things but instead of doing that they’re trying to yank our health care away. Trey Hollingsworth took a vote to take health care away from 300,000 Hoosiers without meeting with us first. That is unconscionable. 
 
HPI: Getting rid of the death tax and the Obamacare individual mandate are big applause lines for even middle-class Republicans. Is it starting to sink in that those on the health exchanges, because Congress didn’t do anything to evolve the ACA, is that hitting pocketbooks now?
 
Watson: People are very worried about having Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security stripped away from them. They know this Congress is doing everything they can to line their pockets and they’re going to take away benefits for middle-class families that we earned in order to hand over giant gifts to the 1%, in order to line their warchests, to satisfy K Street lobbyists. Trey Hollingsworth is in bed with K Street. It’s clear. He will introduce any bill they bring to him. He introduced the payday loan bill to allow big banks to issue payday loans at exorbitant rates. How is that helping middle-class families? It doesn’t. It helps the big banks. Who are Trey Hollingsworth’s constituents? Who is he answering to? He answers to Wall Street, the big banks, insurance companies. Just look at who writes his campaign checks and then you’ll understand why these are the votes he takes. He fights against everything that would help working class families.
 
HPI: Has Rep. Hollingsworth agreed to debate?
 
Watson: No, he has refused. We asked him to debate in all 13 counties in the district and he has refused. We are starting to answer invitations and what I’m hearing is he hasn’t responded to any of these invitations. 
 
HPI: Is he doing any joint appearances with you?
 
Watson: I have invited Trey Hollingworth to join me. I think it’s important for people to hear a clear choice. They deserve to hear from their representative. He hasn’t held any. He has not responded to a single invitation. There is a public outcry. The Herald-Times just wrote a piece calling for him to debate. He’s afraid. He’s afraid of his constituents. He does not want to have an open meeting with the public because he knows he’s going to be held accountable. He thinks he can buy a second term to Congress. 
 
HPI: What is your Capitol Hill experience?
 
Watson: I’m very proud of the work I’ve done for Hoosier families. I worked as a senior staffer on jobs policies for the Education and Labor Committee for Democrats. I fought for the people to come together to bargain for their fair share. I fought to get more Americans overtime pay. I wrote the Working Families Agenda for the U.S. Congress. I led the development of legislation to make the minimum wage a living wage again. I was fighting for working families to get ahead. I was fighting for clean water and clean air protections. 
 
HPI: Do you teach at IU?
 
Watson: I taught public law. I taught a course in lawmaking and how Congress works. I also taught discrimination law at the law school. Bloomington is my home. I’m a fifth-generation Hoosier. What generation Tennessean is Trey Hollingsworth? Have you found out?
 
HPI: I have not asked that. Do you know?
 
Watson: I don’t. My roots in Indiana go back to the Civil War when my great-great grandfather fought for the Union. My dad was the first in his family to go to college. He went to Indiana University on the GI Bill. That idea that we ought to invest in creating opportunity is really important to me. That investment in my family propelled us into the middle class. I got to grow up in a middle-class life. After my dad served in the Navy, he ended up teaching at IU for many, many years.
 
HPI: I know you’re trying to localize this race. I wrote last week that this is going to be a referendum on President Trump. He dominates things. He dominates the HPI Daily Wire more than any other politician since we began publishing that in 2000. He dominates network coverage and cable news. Talk about the perceptions of Donald Trump.
 
Watson: Some of the things we’re seeing, about the Russian interference in our elections, these are not partisan issues. This is about the integrity of our democracy. It takes all of us standing up and saying, “We need to investigate this. We need to stop that interference.” We need to ensure we are having free, open and fair elections and that process has integrity. Trey Hollingworth won’t stand up. Dan Coats has stood up. Lots of Republicans have stood up and said that. Trey Hollingworth is silent. If you’re silent when your democracy is under attack by a foreign power, you don’t deserve to be in office.
 
HPI: A good part of my career has been covering Hoosier internationalists like Lee Hamilton, Tim Roemer, Richard Lugar, Robert Orr, and Dan Coats. I’m stunned at what I’m seeing from the Republican Party on the various Russian issues. 
 
Watson: These are things that anyone who believes in the integrity of our democracy, anyone who believes in government of the people, for the people and by the people are going to stand up and say, “We need to make sure this is fully investigated.” Trey Hollingsworth is a coward. He has said nothing.
 
HPI: Does the Mueller probe come up when you go door to door? Do people describe it as a “witch hunt” or do you sense open minds, even with Republicans?
 
Watson: People are very concerned. But the number one issue I hear about in the district is, “How am I going to fill my prescriptions? What am I going to do for my kids who are struggling with drug abuse? Who is going to help create a strong economy in Martinsville, in Marengo, so my kids don’t have to move away? Or go to Louisville for work because there’s nothing to do here? That’s what people are worried about. They want to make sure their kids can go to college and not be trapped in a lifetime of debt. They want to know if the next generation is going to be able to buy a home and have a secure retirement so they can have a dignified life. That’s what they’re worried about.
 
HPI: What can we expect from your campaign over the next three months?
 
Watson: You can expect to see me and an army of volunteers at your door. I believe that when we get out there, when we communicate, when we talk about having an Indiana in which no one is left behind, about having a representative who understands that the House of Representatives is the people’s house, that’s when we win.