By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS  – The open 5th CD seat has now become a Republican primary referendum on President Trump.

This past week, Club For Growth Action PAC, which has endorsed State Sen. Victoria Spartz, began airing two attack TV ads at Spartz’s two rivals who pose the biggest threat to her nomination, former Marion County prosecutor Carl Brizzi and Atlanta businesswoman Beth Henderson.

The ad against Brizzi features him on a WIBC radio show, saying, “I’m not a Trump guy. I know the orange man does crazy things. I did not vote for Trump.” The ending voiceover says, “If you want President Trump in the White house, you don’t want Carl Brizzi in the House.”

An ad against Henderson features a CNN video clip with Henderson saying about Trump, “I don’t like his outbursts and his inappropriateness with the public and his scruples.” The ending ad voiceover says, “Yep, Henderson sounds like Nancy Pelosi.” It adds that she joined a group pushing for Trump’s impeachment, with the voiceover saying, “Beth Henderson: Wrong about Trump, wrong about Congress.”

Club For Growth President David McIntosh, who lost a 2012 race in the 5th CD against U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, is banking on the notion that in a 15-candidate GOP race, it will be ardent Trump supporters who will give Spartz enough momentum to win the nomination.

As it did for Richard Mourdock’s U.S. Senate campaign in 2012, Club For Growth has provided polling for Spartz (showing her with a double-digit lead and 76% name ID), endorsed her candidacy, and according to the FEC website, contributed a very modest $5,206 of the $91,882 she reported on her pre-primary filing. That comes on top of the $750,000 she loaned her campaign. She had spent $679,469 and had $160,713 cash on hand.

The FEC reports show that Henderson has raised $445,459, had $291,331 in expenditures and had $154,128 cash on hand. She loaned her campaign $254,600.

Brizzi is actually sixth on the GOP fund list (trailing Treasurer Kelly Mitchell at $331,977, Dr. Chuck Dietzen at $303,639 and Rev. Micah Beckwith at $147,490), raising $144,761, spending $111,620 with $33,141 on hand. But Brizzi served eight years as Marion County prosecutor and entered the race with the highest name ID in the field. He has also waged a TV ad campaign.

Spartz, Henderson and Brizzi have had more TV ad exposure than the rest of the field. So McIntosh has taken aim at Henderson and Brizzi, using Trump as a wedge. It may deliver the nomination to the Noblesville Republican who was elected via caucus to finish out Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley’s General Assembly term, then bolted her reelection campaign and opted for this congressional race.

Should Spartz prevail with the nomination, it would mark one of the strangest routes ever taken by a congressional candidate.

McIntosh is betting that the Trump factor will land Spartz the nomination, though it could prove problematic in a fall showdown with the expected Democrat nominee Christina Hale, who has raised $1,052,047, had $550,494 in expenditures and had $501,552 cash on hand per her May 13 FEC report.

Hale’s chief nomination rival, 2018 nominee Dee Thornton, has raised just $64,761 in her May 13 filing.

The reason Hale entered the race was the notion that the 5th CD was turning purple. U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly carried the district in his 2018 loss to Republican Mike Braun, and Democrats picked up SD29 with J.D. Ford’s defeat of State Sen. Mike Delph. SD29 straddles Indianapolis and Hamilton County, and was the lone GOP-held district that Hillary Clinton carried over Trump in 2016.

Senate Majority Campaign Committee polling on behalf of Delph and State Sen. Jim Merritt in 2018 showed that Trump was under water in their districts. Several sources told HPI that Trump’s approval was well south of Trump’s 47% Indiana approval.

Trump probably remains popular in the northern part of the 5th CD, an area where  Henderson was expected to do well. Thus, the Club For Growth threw in the wedge issue, using the president as the fulcrum.

Brizzi’s base is in Indianapolis, where Trump is very unpopular. His dilemma is that moderate anti-Trump voters will be inclined to vote for Hale in the Democratic primary.

Delph told HPI after his loss to Ford, “Every Republican got trounced” in Marion County. Braun received only 30%, Indiana Auditor Tera Klutz 33%, Delph 34%, Secretary of State Connie Lawson 35%, while Mitchell and Susan Brooks got 36%. Delph noted that 66% of Ford’s votes came via Democratic straight party ballots.

In the middle of blue Indy and the red north are suburban Carmel, Fishers and Noblesville where Spartz’s State Senate district is located. But she has never appeared on a primary or general election ballot. Thus, McIntosh’s gamble carries some risk. The pro-Trump TV ads aimed at Brizzi and Henderson could galvanize moderate “Lugar Republicans” to coalesce around the former prosecutor or Henderson, who has been endorsed by Sen. Mike Braun, Kenley and former congressman Dan Burton. Republican Primary Status: Tossup. Democratic Primary Status: Safe Hale.

1st CD: Big McDermott money lead

There is a new money order in the open 1st CD Democratic primary. Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. maintained a healthy money lead, but loaned his campaign $50,000. McDermott has raised $587,348 and spent $515,792 as of his May 13 FEC filing. He had $71,556 cash on hand.

Gary attorney Sabrina Haake moved into second place, posting $283,977, of which $209,000 came from a candidate loan. State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon reported $256,446 and had $52,461 cash on hand. 

North Township Trustee Frank Mrvan posted $232,122 and had $55,732 cash on hand. He has received the United Steelworkers endorsement, as well as from U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, who had an ending balance of $218,951 following his final campaign in 2018. Visclosky has helped engineer the Steelworkers and Gary Democratic Precinct Organization support on behalf of the trustee.

McDermott received $1,000 from Oscar Martinez for Sheriff, $350 from State Rep. Carolyn Jackson, $1,000 from Hobart Mayor Brian Snedecor, $100 from Citizens for Mike Andrade, who is seeking Reardon’s HD12 seat, and $1,000 from Lake County Commissioner Mike Repay. The advocacy group Democratic Progress is spending $38,480 on McDermott’s behalf, according to FEC filings, which is just a portion of the $165,000 in PAC money supporting the mayor.

On Monday, he was endorsed by Donnelly. “I have known and served with Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. for many years, and I always admired his hard work and dedication to making life better for our working class families,” Donnelly said. “Tom McDermott would be a great Member of the U.S. Congress.”

“I couldn’t be more pleased to have Indiana’s former U.S. senator Joe Donnelly weigh in today on my campaign to become NWI’s next congressman,” McDermott said. “I’ve always respected Joe for what he stood for in the Senate — level headedness, moderate views, and faithful to his Indiana constituents. When I first decided to run for Congress, Joe went out of his way to host a fundraiser for me and I want to thank him for his kind words today encouraging my run to be NWI’s next congressman.”

Reardon was endorsed by U.S. Rep. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Chicago, which is designed to boost her  Latino turnout. “Mara has been a bold leader in many of the same fights that I have fought throughout my career, from standing up for our workers to ensuring families have access to affordable health care and a quality education,” Garcia said. She also got a boost when Seattle-based Voter Protection Project announced earlier this month it’s spending “six figures,” or at least $100,000, to create and send three different mailers to some 83,000 likely primary voters in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties ahead of the June 2 election.

HPI still believes this is McDermott’s race to lose. He has a broader list of endorsements, has raised the most money by a long shot, is a former Lake County Democratic chairman and his Hammond power base is The Region’s largest city. Asked Wednesday if he was going to win, McDermott told HPI, “I have raised more than my closest opponent times two. I have super PACs supporting me to to the tune of an extra $165,000, running TV ads and direct mailers like The Region has never seen before. I have a great team of dedicated volunteers and high name ID. By most accounts, I have made a good name for myself and represented Hammond well in the 16 years I’ve been mayor.”

McDermott was cautionary about his prospects next Tuesday. “I am running against the candidate chosen by Rep. Visclosky to succeed him. The congressman has brought along the Gary Precinct Organization as well as the USW endorsement, and thousands of yard sign locations around NWI for the trustee, which are huge for any candidate running for the first time across CD1. Without these advantages, brought to the trustee from Congressman Pete, he wouldn’t be hard to beat at all. However, he has these advantages heading into Election Day, and it’s something I am leery about. I feel good about my chances on Election Day, but I have too much respect for my opponents to guarantee any type of results.

“It’s all up to the voters now,” McDermott said. Democratic Primary Horse Race Status: Leans McDermott.

2nd CD: Hackett favored

South Bend attorney Pat Hackett is facing attorney Ellen Marks. This is Hackett’s second attempt at the 2nd CD nomination, losing to Mel Hall in the 2018 Democratic primary. She is an adjunct assistant professor at the Notre Dame Law School and runs her own firm, Hackett & Associates. Her May 13 FEC filing showed $314,259 raised, $257,291 spend and $58,066 cash on hand.

Marks posted $296,139 raised, including a $106,250 loan from herself, and has spent $275,587. She had an ending balance of $20,551.

In a South Bend Tribune interview, Hackett said, “COVID-19 shows us that the healthcare of one of us impacts all of us. The federal government must play a leading role in expanding access to healthcare. Healthcare is a right and public good. I support the ACA, its removal of lifetime caps, and removal of exclusions for pre-existing conditions. I support universal healthcare coverage and movement toward a Medicare for All system ensuring coverage regardless of age, pre-existing conditions, employment or economic status.”

Marks said, “The federal government should enact a public option that expands on the current Medicare system and ensures every American is covered. I also believe we should preserve choice and service competition by allowing private plans to compete for customers. Healthcare makes up 18% of our national economy, so it is crucial that we create a resilient, cost-effective system that can withstand Constitutional challenges and under which access to care will be protected notwithstanding shifts in political power.” HPI Democratic Primary Horse Race Status: Likely Hackett.

3rd CD: Banks expected to win

U.S. Rep. Jim Banks is seeking to fend off a Republican primary challenge from Chris Magiera. Banks has raised $719,279, spent $505,185 and had $225,602 cash on hand as of May 13. He has tacked toward President Trump over the past year, ardently defending the president. Magiera posted $260,895 raised, had $254,147 in expenditures and had $6,748 cash on hand. The 3rd CD is one of the most conservative, pro-Trump districts in the nation and it is inconceivable that Banks would not be renominated. He will likely face Democrat Tommy Schrader, who posted $294,949 on his May 13 FEC report, spent $274,397 and had $20,552 cash on hand. He faces Chip Coldiron in the Democratic primary. Coldiron has raised just over $5,000. HPI Republican Primary Horse Race Status: Safe Banks. HPI Democratic Primary Status: Safe Schrader.