WASHINGTON  – If you want to see the pressure the impeachment of President Donald Trump is putting on Democratic House candidates who are trying to win in Republican districts, look at Christina Hale (pictured left).

Hours before the Democratic-majority House voted almost strictly along party lines Wednesday night to impeach Trump, Hale, a candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 5th CD, put out a careful statement.

She alluded to Trump’s efforts to withhold military aid from Ukraine – and deny President Volodymyr Zelensky a White House visit -- unless the country launched an investigation of former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, the abuse of power that was at the center of the first article of impeachment. She also referenced Trump’s obstruction of Congress, which constituted the second article of impeachment.

The House approved the first article, 230-197, with only two Democrats voting against. The second article passed, 229-198, with only three Democrats voting against. But Hale didn’t explicitly say whether she would have stood with her Democratic colleagues had she been serving in the House rather than running for it.

“National security is of primary importance to all Americans,” Hale said in the statement. “My dad, a longtime prosecuting attorney, taught me long ago that no one is above the law, not even our president, and that transparency in government is essential to well-functioning democracy. Americans across our country are seriously concerned, and we need to see this impeachment process through in the Senate, and give these articles a fair and open hearing. That said, we must not allow Congress to be distracted from working on the everyday issues affecting people here in Indiana, like making health care more affordable, lowering the cost of prescription drugs and focusing on education and employment.”

It seems that Hale favors impeachment. But her spokesman, Andy Bilyk, would not say whether Hale would have cast a vote for impeachment. He repeatedly referred to the statement.

Hale’s caution likely is a result of the difficult task facing the front-runner for the 5th CD Democratic nomination, as she tries to win in a district that is R+9 on the Cook Partisan Index but in recent elections has given Democrats hope of flipping it.

Stretching from Marion in the north to Carmel and the northern Indianapolis suburbs in the south, the district has been trending Democratic in General Assembly races since 2014. Former state Sen. Mike Delph lost his seat in 2018 to Democrat J.D. Ford. Former Sen. Joe Donnelly won the district last year despite losing his seat to Republican Mike Braun.

But the district has not elected a Democrat to the U.S. House since Jim Jontz in 1988 when the district had a much different footprint. U.S. Rep. Dan Burton dominated the more modern 5th. Current  GOP Rep. Susan Brooks won the seat four times since 2012 with at least 56.7% of the vote each time.

Hale, a former state representative and candidate for lieutenant governor, is likely trying to run as a moderate Democrat given the district’s Republican tilt.  

Bilyk said Hale’s schedule this week didn’t permit time for an HPI interview.

Her opponent for the Democratic nomination, Dee Thornton, was more straightforward about impeachment. She said in an interview she would have voted with House Democrats. “It’s about protecting the Constitution,” said Thornton, a former Xerox executive and the 5th CD Democratic nominee in 2018. “It should not be a partisan vote. It’s a vote on principle.”

She is confident that her vocal support of impeachment won’t hurt her in November. “What people see in me is not a partisan politician,” Thornton said. “They see in me a candidate who is willing to do what is right and to serve with honesty and integrity.”

The National Republican Congressional Committee is prepared to attack Hale and Thornton for backing impeachment. “The Democrats’ obsession with impeaching the president will cost them their [House] majority next November and will definitely hurt Democrats in a GOP district like IN-05,” NRCC spokeswoman Camille Gallo wrote in an email. “If any IN-05 Democratic candidate comes out in support of impeachment, it will prove they will go to Washington and put their political party above the people of Indiana.”

Like the colleagues they want to join in Washington, 5th CD Republican candidates would have voted against impeachment. “It looks like a completely partisan effort to remove the president because [Democrats] know they can’t beat him at the ballot box,” Indiana Treasurer Kelly Mitchell said in an interview.

The Rev. Micah Beckwith said impeachment will turn out to be a political boost for Trump and other Republicans. “It’s great,” said Beckwith, pastor of a non-denominational church in Noblesville. “It’s going to catapult [Trump] to an overwhelming victory in 2020. It’s playing right into the president’s hands. It really is going to be a positive thing not only for the president but also for someone like me running in the 5th District.”

Democratic and Republican 5th CD candidates agree on one thing – voters rarely bring up impeachment.

Mitchell said she has heard about impeachment from “one person” out of the hundreds she’s met at campaign events. Voters “see it as a partisan charade and want it to be done.”

Beckwith has a similar take. “Honestly, they don’t care about impeachment because they know there’s nothing there,” he said. The strong economy will trump impeachment next year, Mitchell said. “It comes down to the kitchen table [issues],” Mitchell said. “Is my life better today than it was four years ago?”

1st CD has McDermott changing tune

The mirror of the 5th is the +9 Democratic CPI 1st CD. Last week in a NWI Times interview with Dan Carden, Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr said a censure resolution, rebuking the president for his alleged misdeeds but without the threat of removal from office, would serve the same practical purpose as impeachment while dividing the country far less. If this is all going to end up, ultimately, just partisan politics — the Democrats in the House are going to vote to impeach and the Republicans in the Senate are going to vote to acquit — then why are we going through this exercise?” McDermott asked.

State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon assailed McDermott, saying, “Like Rep. Visclosky, I have supported the inquiry and impeachment. I’m glad that the Mayor of Hammond has finally realized that in a democracy we have a responsibility to question and hold our leaders accountable for their actions for the good of the nation. Like I tell my children, when we know better, we do better.” 

After The Times reported on McDermott favoring censure, the four-term mayor said Monday he recently changed his mind to support impeachment after watching House committee testimony implicating Trump in wrongdoing. “Even though I felt like we should have headed a different route, once we decided to head down the route of impeachment would I vote against impeachment because I think censure is the right answer? And it’s no,” McDermott said.