INDIANAPOLIS – The headlines following the primary election upsets of State Reps. Rebecca Kubacki and Kathy Heuer were along the lines of “social conservatives strike back.”
The two northeastern Indiana Republicans voted to strike the second sentence of HJR-3 and then voted against the amendment itself. While it passed the House and Senate with large but diminished margins, the process was forced to restart and is now potentially up for the ballot in 2016.
The social conservative rebound wasn’t complete, as State Sen. John Waterman lost, State Rep. Casey Cox survived, and State Rep. Bob Morris had a very close call.
But one thing is certain: The family coalitions will be active this fall in general election races, will recruit candidates for the 2016 cycles, and will press Gov. Mike Pence to back the amendment for the year when he could seek reelection. Pence administration sources have indicated to Howey Politics Indiana that they view support for the marriage amendment to be eroding, and that the emphasis on 2015 will be on the biennial budget.
Then there is the complicating factor of a potential Pence presidential bid. Team Pence insists the focus is on reelection, but then we watch the staff push his portfolio the way Gov. Mitch Daniels’ staff did in 2010 and 2011 when he came close to launching a presidential bid.
The challenge for the family coalition is to counter the erosion of support in polls as well as to successfully target legislative incumbents beyond Elkhart, Kosciusko and Whitley counties. Kubacki and Heuer were two moderate Republicans representing some of the most socially conservatives areas in the state, if not the Midwest.
Curt Smith of the Indiana Family Institute also put several Republicans, State Reps. Kevin Mahan, Steve Braun and perhaps even Senate President David Long, on notice that primary or general election challengers may be in the offing.
“The vote occurred so late we didn’t have time to recruit,” Smith told Howey Politics Indiana Wednesday morning. The House vote occurred close to the February filing deadline. Smith had grumbled to reporters after the House excised the second sentence to HJR-3 that a number of Republicans had not kept their word. He enunciated that as the primary campaign fumes were clearing.
“We won’t make that mistake again,” Smith vowed. “We’ll spend more time recruiting. We will look at Democrats who support our views. We reserve the right to be active this fall.”
Smith described Mahan and Braun as Republicans who “abandoned” the marriage cause. As for President Long, who at one point gaveled Smith as “out of order” during Senate testimony last February, Smith was asked if a primary challenge might be in the offing. “I think Bosma showed very strong commitment,” Smith answered, mentioning Speaker Brian Bosma who shifted HJR-3 out of the Judiciary Committee after it had stalled there. Long also shifted the issue out of Senate Judiciary to Rules, which he controlled. “I wish Sen. Long had amended it back in,” Smith said.
“I think Sen. Long thinks the Supreme Court will have the final word before it gets on the ballot. Long was saying in the Journal-Gazette that had Kubacki and Heuer not voted against it, they might have survived. I think that shows the political saliency it has and I would expect the legislature to address it in 2015. I think they should all worry about it. We’d rather have the vote in the Senate. If the political process isn’t responsive, we know what we have to do. Imagine if we can spend some time and get focused on a few key races where we’d back candidates who won’t buckle on family issues.”
A handful of primaries
In the wake of the removal of the second sentence and the passage of the filing deadline, Smith and Ryan McCann of the Indiana Family Institute decided to pick a “handful of races” to exact retribution. “Kubacki was chair of the Family Committee,” Smith explained, “so we thought we’d send a message. Curt Nisly is very libertarian, but we thought he’d be a solid vote on family and life issues. Heuer had voted against the amendment and had a good challenger. Ryan really liked Christopher Judy.”
Jeff Brantley of the Indiana Chamber said they realized Kubacki was in trouble last February. “That area is so evangelical,” he said. “The HJR-3 votes were just killers. They were dominated by social religious conservative issues. Unlike Bassler and Waterman where the focus was on jobs and coal, Monica Boyer was having a fit about Kubacki. We knew it was going to be tough.”
Brantley said that Kubacki mailers were able to raise Nisly’s negatives by his past support of libertarians who support pro-drug policies and other similar issues. He said the sole focus was on HJR-3. “It was all about retribution,” he said.
Smith pointed out that Rep. Cox voted with them in committee and against on the House floor. “We thought it was important to have accountability in the system, so we got behind Denny Worman. We didn’t get Cox, but he’s below 50% and that’s a warning sign for a Republican.”
The family coalition decided to spend $11,700 on a radio ad on WOWO in Fort Wayne, targeting Cox, Kubacki and Heuer. The ad ran 11 times a day for 15 days. “We thought we could reach the conservative, high-information primary voter,” Smith said.
Brantley said that the WOWO ad was devastating for Heuer. “I was surprised about the Heuer race” he said. “The difference was, she didn’t get hit until the WOWO ad. They started dropping mail. People started to remember how she voted on HJR-3 and her numbers just collapsed.”
The family groups had a direct mail system that Smith described as better than the Washington, D.C., firm Aristotle and the Indiana Republican Party data bases, though not as good as President Obama’s campaign apparatus. Of Aristotle and the GOP, Smith said, “They can’t tell you how intense I am about these issues. We had access to some technology through our national partners.” Those national partners included the National Organization for Marriage, Jim Dobson’s Focus on the Family and the affiliated Citizenlink, the American Family Association and the Family Research Council.
They spent about $50,000 on the three races, as well as Sen. Waterman’s losing race to Eric Bassler, and on behalf of Jeff Raatz in the open SD27 race, which he won.
Megan Robertson, who led the Freedom Indiana efforts against HJR-3, observed that Rep. Mahan and Braun’s districts “are completely different” than Kubacki and Heuer’s. She said that while the family coalition is touting their upsets, there were other issues, Common Core and daycare regulation, that were also in play.
“Kubacki was targeted before HJR-3,” Robertson said. “Those races were already in play.”
Of the family coaliton, Robertson said, “They really needed a win.”
Robertson added that while Indiana Freedom will not involve itself in election races, many of its members will fund Republicans who are challenged. As for reviving the issue during the 2015 and 2016 legsilative sessions, Robertson said, “Freedom Indiana is ready to fight again. If they want to have that battle, we’ll do it.”
As for Gov. Pence, who sources say endorsed Kubacki and Cox but not Heuer, Smith said he has not circled back with the governor. Pence  endorsed restoring the second sentence in early February at a family coalition luncheon.
“I don’t know what Gov. Pence’s thinking was there,” Smith said of his endorsements. “Maybe he felt an obligation to be loyal.”
Smith described some elements of the Pence administration as being “skeptical” and added, “Mike has never indicated to me he wants to back down. I haven’t discussed it with him. What happened last night suggests that if they don’t address this issue, the voters will have the final word. A lot of folks think the federal courts will decide, but we’ll push for a vote next January.”

Bassler overcame Waterman
While HJR-3 over took all other issues in northeastern Indiana, in the Bassler/Waterman race, the challenger was down by 30% in early spring. “But our research showed this area was not as liberal and pro-union as the Waterman people thought. We saw an opportunity on union issues,” Brantley said.
Bassler began running TV ads in the Terre Haute market contrasting the two candidates on the coal tax and union issues. Waterman responded with $10,000 in ads in Daviess County, which was Bassler’s base.
Bassler was able to roll up a large margin in his home county of Daviess. He was a hard working candidate and his campaign hit Waterman at the right time.
“Negative advertising really worked this year,” Brantley said. “The negatives really worked against Kubacki and Heuer, and they worked for Bassler and Behning.” That was in reference to House Education Chairman Bob Behning, who saw his numbers start to erode in his rematch against Michael Scott.
Broadcast TV ads and direct mail against Scott saved the race after what Brantley called “panic time” about two weeks ago when Behning’s voter ID numbers began to “slip big time.”