By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Nashville, Ind.

1. Mayor Pete’s big week

Here are your final power lunch talking points for the week: We are on the precipice of Mayor Pete's big week with his Democratic presidential campaign kickoff with South Bend as his backdrop. And it comes as he is surging, now third place in three Iowa and New Hampshire polls, trailing only the septuagenarian frontrunners Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. The Monmouth Iowa Poll has Joe Biden at 27%, Bernie Sanders at 16% and Buttigieg at 11%. The St. Anselm College poll in New Hampshire had it Biden at 23%, Sanders at 16%, Buttigieg at 11%. A Political Wire member straw poll has Mayor Buttigieg in fourth at 9% (behind Biden, Sen. Kamala Harris and Sanders).

In the Monmouth numbers, Buttigieg'a fav/unfavs stand at 45/9%, compared to 78/14% for Biden and 67/26% for Sanders. Buttigieg gets more support from liberals (13%) than non-liberals (5%). Buttigieg (12%) and Harris (13%) both have more support among college graduates than they do with voters who do not have a college degree (6% for Buttigieg and 1% for Harris. “Buttigieg’s current standing in the horse race is impressive  given that nearly half of likely Democratic caucus goers have yet to form an opinion of him," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. "He has one of the best positive to negative ratios in the field. He could move up if he is able to maintain that rating as he introduces himself to more voters.”

If there's a news cycle heads up, it is the Buttigieg 2 p.m. Sunday rally timing in mid-April, which corresponds with Attorney General William Barr's promise to release the Mueller report. If there's bad political news for President Trump, that report could end up in the late Friday afternoon bad news dump  and dominate the weekend and Monday news cycles. That could either step on Mayor Pete's coverage, or give him primetime to enunciate a response.

2. Pete v. Pence

As we said in Thursday's weekly HPI and in my column, Mayor Buttigieg is now on the GOP radar. Vice President Mike Pence was on CNN this morning: "I've known Mayor Pete for many years. We worked for very closely when I was governor and I consider him a friend." On CNBC on Thursday, Pence said, "He said some things that are critical of my Christian faith and about me personally, and he knows better. We had a great working relationship. He knows me.” Buttigieg stopped by “The Ellen DeGeneres Show”  and said, “I’m not critical of his faith; I’m critical of bad policies. I don’t have a problem with religion. I’m religious too. I have a problem with religion being used as a justification to harm people and especially in the LGBTQ community. So many people, even today, feel like they don’t belong. You can get fired in so many parts of this country just for who you are and that’s got to change. And if the VP, I’m not interested in feuding with the Vice President, but if he wanted to clear this up, he could come out today and say he’s changed his mind  that it shouldn’t be legal to discriminate against anybody in this country for who they are. That’s all.” One more note: President Trump has yet to weigh in on the mayor or come up with a derisive nickname.

3. The Huston spectacle

After years of steady Ways & Means stewardship from Chairman Tim Brown, it's been Co-chair Todd Huston taking the conspicuous role this session and it's been, well, interesting. Huston has come up with a $100 million fee to move a Gary casino to Terre Haute ... but wait, let's make that ... $50 million!  On Thursday, the Indiana House debated 11 amendments to the gaming bill, with six adopted. Curiously, among the amendments that went uncalled was a sweeping change filed by Huston which would have struck out all portions of the bill dealing with the Gary riverboat moves, leaving only the sports wagering provisions behind. 

4. House rejects power moratorium

A controversial decision to add what has been called a “moratorium” on major energy projects into a utilities bill in the House was reversed in a 53-38 vote by that body on Thursday. It was seen as a "last gasp for coal"  as Vectren, NiSource and IPL are retiring an array coal-fired power plants. Republican Rep. Ed Soliday introduced the proposal in a committee amendment, which led opponents to decry the bill as an attempt to prop up Indiana’s struggling coal operations at the expense of the renewable industry. Rep. Matt Pierce's amendment striking Soliday’s language from the bill, SB472 saying there was little precedent – or interest – for the legislature to halt an industry in this manner. Soliday defended his addition to the bill, saying it had been mislabeled as a moratorium when it was really meant to slow down the industry to avoid a potential “bust” of the energy market caused by short-term overconfidence in renewables and natural gas. Some 26 Republicans joined with 27 Democrats to pass the amendment. This comes after a report this week showing Indiana one of the top states in renewable jobs at 89,000, while the coal industry has just 2,700 jobs.

5. Electoral College compact rejected
 
House Republicans along with four Democrats voted down an amendment put forward by Rep. Pierce which would have added Indiana to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. The compact, which currently includes 14 states and Washington D.C., is an agreement by all of its members to pledge their Electoral College votes to the presidential candidate that wins the national popular vote. That would kick in only if the total elector count of the members reaches the 270 needed to win the election. Pierce argued that the compact shouldn't be seen as unconstitutional  because it is up to the individual states to choose how they allocate their electoral college votes. GOP Rep. Ethan Manning, who served as a member of the Electoral College in 2016, said detractors of the system were politically motivated and called the compact "sour grapes."  Speaker Brian Bosma wasn't fond of the idea either, quipping after its defeat, "The republic shall survive."

Have a great weekend, folks. We'll be in South Bend on Sunday for Mayor Pete's kickoff, so look for our coverage. It's The Atomic!