By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS – Saturday’s 2nd CD Republican caucus will be unpredictable, because, that’s the nature of the beast. Out of a field of 14 Republicans set to seek the nomination in the wake of U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski’s stunning death, three key candidates have emerged: Kem Krest executive Rudy Yakym III, former attorney general Curtis Hill, and former legislator Christy Stutzman.

The field also includes State Rep. Curt Nisly, who was defeated in the HD22 primary in May; attorney Tiernan Kane, Michael Hogberg, both of South Bend; Dallas Barkman, Terry Harper III, Scott Huffman, Daniel Koors, Marvin Layne and Scott Wise. The caucuses will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday at Grissom Middle School at 13881 Kern Road, Mishawaka. Doors will open at 10 a.m. A Facebook Live stream will be available at www.facebook.com/indgop for those interested in watching the caucuses.

Yakym enters the caucus with the endorsement of Dean Swihart, Walorski’s husband, and her mother, Martha, who endorsed him this morning. Hill has been working a number of angles since he lost a 2020 virtual Republican convention floor fight to Attorney General Todd Rokita. He was active on the floor of the Indiana State Republican convention last June, seeking to revive his career after his exit from the Statehouse in disgrace. And Stutzman has been there before, playing an integral role in husband Marlin Stutzman’s capturing the 3rd CD caucus on the second ballot in 2010 following the resignation of U.S. Rep. Mark Souder.

This field is sans candidates from the natural feeder system, the General Assembly, which is where Marlin Stutzman came from in 2010. Informed and reliable sources tell HPI that Swihart wanted to endorse State Sen. Linda Rogers, but the deadline to withdraw from the ballot put her and State Reps. Timothy Wesco and Joanna King in that no man’s land.

Add to this uncertain situation the death of St. Joseph County Republican Chairman Zachery Potts, who would normally be organizing, and you end up with a potentially volatile scenario.

“I find it difficult to handicap,” said South Bend Tribune columnist Jack Colwell, “Especially so when Zach Potts normally would be the one putting things together with the organization.”

Colwell believes Swihart’s endorsement of Yakym will carry significant weight, something echoed by a number of 2nd CD Republicans HPI surveyed. “Dean is highly regarded. He was inspirational in his message to those in the long line for the visitation and at the funeral,” Colwell said. “Yakym has more going than just the endorsement. He has been involved with the Republican organization in St. Joseph County and with Jackie’s campaigns. During the visitation, I heard him mentioned as a choice for the nomination. And that was before the endorsement.

“If the vote was by those attending Jackie’s funeral, Dean’s choice would win with ease,” Colwell said. “But it’s harder to predict what precinct people in all the district counties will do.”

Other Republicans noted that Hill has, perhaps, the highest name ID after serving multiple terms as Elkhart County prosecutor with repeated exposure in the South Bend/Elkhart media market, as well as his term as attorney general. “Hill is so well known,” said one Republican. “He didn’t deserve the death penalty” for his groping scandal. But a Hill 2nd CD nomination coming in tandem with the U.S. Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade could create down ballot problems for General Assembly Republicans if the suburban female vote is stoked.

That “hard to predict” angle is omnipresent. That’s what State Rep. Randy Borror discovered when he battled with Stutzman, car dealer Bob Thomas and State Sen. Liz Brown for the 3rd CD nomination at Columbia City in June 2010.

Stutzman appeared to be in a league of his own, which he was, HPI observed in the June 17, 2010, edition. His team had a contingency. “We talked to a lot of people about second-ballot support,” Marlin Stutzman said. “We had a lot of discussions, you know, if this happens, will you come over?” Expect Christy Stutzman to follow a similar game plan this week.

Borror tried to line up support in the Alice in Wonderland world of caucus voting, where a candidate is not really sure what is up or down, big or little. Borror thought he had a decent first ballot count and overwhelming support in the Allen County delegation. “I’d call and talk to them. Then I’d have two people call to see if they were feeding me a line of shit,” Borror said.

Obviously many were. Borror had made thousands of phone calls, put more than 2,000 miles on his car as he drove parts of four counties outside of Fort Wayne
and Allen County lining up support. The problem was that he was bleeding support at his base. Marlin Stutzman won on the second ballot 229 to 65 for Borror.

Saturday’s caucus is playing out in a little over a week, with a leadership vacuum atop the 2nd CD’s largest county.

While Yakym enters this fray with the imprimatur of the Walorski organization, Hill and Stutzman come into this fight with two significant blemishes. If Yakym crystalizes support from the Walorski organization, he could win on the first ballot. If he doesn’t, that gives Hill and Stutzman a lifeline.

Hill lost the 2020 AG nomination to Todd Rokita as a direct result of his 2018 sine die groping incident that prompted the suspension of his law license. Gov. Eric Holcomb and Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch along with legislative leaders urged him to resign. But in this, the age of Donald Trump, what was once scandalous can now be seen in today’s GOP as an attribute. Tacit support from Gov. Holcomb can be a millstone, as Secretary of State Holli Sullivan learned at the June convention. Almost every media report on the caucus noted Hill’s ethical controversies. Don’t be surprised if Hill uses the bad press to his advantage in this era of “fake news.”

He told WISH-TV he didn’t believe the groping allegations would hurt his chances. “I’m sure someone’s going to bring up all sorts of old business, but that’s old news. The folks in this district need somebody who’s a fighter, who can take the heat. And if there’s one thing that I’ve proven over the last several years is I can take a licking.”

Stutzman’s problem is her 2020 resignation from HD49 just weeks after winning a new term. She and Marlin Stutzman had just bought Amish Acres in Nappanee, and she cited Gov. Eric Holcomb’s COVID pandemic restrictions for creating a crisis at their business, renamed “The Barns.” A number of 2nd CD sources told HPI that Stutzman’s House resignation is still a problem.

Hill announced his candidacy on Tuesday morning, saying, “Our nation has been spiraling downward under the current administration. Today, costs are out of control, with prices for food, rent and gasoline straining our household budgets. Education has become indoctrination. Public safety has given way to rampant crime. And the rule of law has evolved into witch hunts that threaten our cherished freedoms. As your next congressman, I will fight as a true Conservative to restore common sense and traditional values to our great nation.”

Christy Stutzman announced on Monday under the slogan “bold, proven, conservative” and she quickly organized coffee klatsches in Rochester, Warsaw, Nappanee, South Bend and Mishawaka on caucus morning.

Monday was dominated by Yakym III. “Rudy is a political outsider who has what it takes to stand up to the Pelosi-Biden agenda,” Swihart said. “He will fight to do the right thing, just as Jackie did every day of her career.”

Yakym, who was appointed by Gov. Holcomb to the Indiana Finance Authority and the Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission & Judicial Qualifications Commission, said in a statement to HPI, “Over the past decade Jackie has been a mentor and friend, and I have learned a lot about public service working alongside her. I am running for the 2nd District to not only honor her legacy, but to represent Hoosier common sense in Washington.”

The winner will take on Democrat Paul Steury of Goshen, a former high school teacher who has lost three races for the Elkhart County Council. “Mine is really based on a grassroots campaign, going out and visiting as many people as possible,” Steury told IndyStar columnist James Briggs. What that means is the winner of Saturday’s GOP caucus is tantamount to victory in November.

Horse Race Status: This is a “leans” Yakym race on the first ballot. If he can’t put it together, then watch out for Hill or Stutzman to make a move, likely on the second ballot.

‘Jackie’ remembered

Dean Swihart made two things clear at the funeral of U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski last Friday: She would be called just “Jackie” and that she would be referred to in both present and past tense. 

Swihart recalled his wife’s love of their swimming pool and their life’s mission. “She is more alive than all of us put together in this room,” Swihart said. “She is just in another location.” 

Gov. Eric Holcomb paid tribute, saying “We all know that mere words can never adequately be able to express that total sense of shock and abrupt disbelief and the devastating grief we are all attempting to process that took Jackie, Zack and Emma from us all too soon.” He continued, “When the kitchen got hot, Jackie always stood strong. She was optimistic and enthusiastic. Many have described her as this force of nature, this positive influence.” 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy related his shock at Walorski’s tragic death on Aug. 3. “She doesn’t just light up the room, she runs the room. It would be Jackie ... who gave me that extra spine we needed. Jackie never had a job, she always had a purpose and a mission. She always had a servant’s heart. I worked with Jackie.” To her family, ‘Thank you for sharing her with us.’” U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise added, “She described herself as a happy Hoosier.” She also used a lot of exclamation marks! “She left us too early. Thank you for sharing her with us. She was a special person.” 

Republican Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri recalled becoming friends with Walorski after they first joined Congress at the same time and lived in the same Washington apartment building for many years. Wagner choked back tears as she called Walorski “one of the best. Jackie was a no-nonsense, get it done and move it or lose it woman of strength and intense integrity,” Wagner said.