By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS – Three years ago, it was Indiana’s 5th CD that was supposedly turning purple. Now it’s the newly reapportioned 1st CD that is taking on a hue normally associated with fisticuffs and black eyes.

Howey Politics Indiana doubted that the old 5th CD would become the new “Bloody 8th” and we were correct in that assessment, as Republican Victoria Spartz defeated Democrat Christina Hale 50 to 45.9% (Libertarian Ken Tucker polled 4%). In that same election cycle, Democrat Frank Mrvan defeated perennial Republican nominee Mark Leyva 56-40%.

Now the purple fever is invading the redrawn 1st CD, which hasn’t elected a Republican since U.S. Rep. Harry E. Rowbottom lost his second reelection bid to Democrat John W. Boehne Jr. in 1930. Since then the 1st CD has been dominated by Democrats William T. Schulte (10 years), Ray Madden (34 years) Adam Benjamin Jr. (five years), Katie Hall (three years) and Pete Visclosky (36 years).

Following the 2021 reapportionment, HPI observed in October of that year: This is the one nominally competitive district coming in at D+7 by FiveThirtyEight (which is outside the normal 5% competitiveness threshold). The 2020 Cook Partisan Index had this as a D+8 district. Freshman U.S. Rep. Frank J. Mrvan looks nominally safe, but in a wave year and with the right candidate, he could be endangered. 

In May, Jennifer-Ruth Green dismantled former LaPorte mayor Blair Milo in the Republican primary, setting up a showdown with Mrvan. Last week, Sabato’s Crystal Ball moved the 1st CD into tossup, citing Green’s FEC second quarter posting of $561,329 to $355,906. It is an impressive number for the GOP challenger, but Mrvan maintained a $631,000 to $454,000 cash advantage. The Cook Political Report is also rating the 1st CD a tossup.

Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, explained why he moved the 1st CD into tossup: “This working-class, post-industrial northwest Indiana district has seen its Democratic lean erode in the Donald Trump era, even though Biden still carried it by 8 points. But Democrats have been losing ground in these kinds of districts in recent years, so we’re calling it a Toss-up now.”

Howey Politics Indiana is rating the 1st CD “Leans” Mrvan. Why?

Let’s revisit the delayed 2020 1st CD primary between Mrvan and Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., who doubled Mrvan in fundraising and drew $165,000 in PAC funds. Mrvan won by close to 3,000 votes, saying on Election Night, “We shocked the world. We were outspent three to one. We kept our head down. We stayed positive. We’ve proven that people want someone who can stay positive, unify, work for them, advocate for them, and bring results back to Northwest Indiana. People beat big money in Northwest Indiana.”

Mrvan had two powerful elements at his disposal, the United Steelworkers and Pete Visclosky. Both will be active on Mrvan’s behalf between now and November. Mrvan told the NWI Times, “Everywhere I went, from the first step of the campaign, every minute of the campaign early on people asked: Who is Congressman Visclosky, who is Pete, endorsing? He’s handled the job with grace and dignity, he has proven results, he’s beloved within our community, and his endorsement was something that gave credibility and also allowed us to be able to move forward with momentum, along with the United Steelworkers — one of the most powerful, results-driven unions in Northwest Indiana.”

Mrvan also credited the American Federation of Teachers-Indiana and the International Longshoremen’s Association with helping him prevail over McDermott.

The mid-term sequence changed Tuesday night. Prior, with $5 a gallon gas and 9% runaway inflation, and President Biden mired in an approval slump in the mid-30th percentile, conventional wisdom was that this was shaping up to be a big Republican wave year. Then came the stunning abortion referendum vote from Kansas, where by a 59-41% margin abortion remained constitutionally protected.

Mayor McDermott has told HPI that the post-Roe environment is going to bring more Democrat women to the polls in November.

Even without the Roe repeal, we still would have Mrvan as nominally favored.

On Tuesday, former vice president Mike Pence campaigned with Green in Hobart, pointing to high gas prices. This came on the same day the Wall Street Journal reported gas prices have been falling for the past seven weeks.

Pence said, “Joe Biden’s far-left policies have unleashed the worst inflation crisis in 40 years! American families and small businesses are being crushed by higher prices,  especially prices at the gas pump. The time has come for the Biden administration to end the war on energy and unleash American energy and lower the cost of gasoline for working families here in the heartland of America. That will be the foundation of bringing this economy back.”

Green added, “Hoosiers deserve better. When we look at the fact that specific economic difficulties are crushing our families, it is something that burdens me. As we see these families who are struggling, I believe we can do better.”” 

Mrvan reacted, saying, “The voters are tired of gimmicks from extreme, out-of-touch, anti-union, anti-women, anti-veteran, and anti-public education Republicans. From this event with former Vice President Pence to the Republicans in the Senate opposing the PACT Act for our veterans, national Republicans are focused solely on greed and political power, not substance and solving problems, and I would expect more from our former vice president. It is deeply regrettable that the Republican nominee for the 1st District of Indiana receives money and support from these types of national organizations, including the American Action Network, which is funded by Big Oil and their record-breaking profits.”
 
But Pence has hardly been a juggernaut in Indiana since he left office in 2021. He openly backed Ron Turpin in SD14, who was soundly defeated by Tyler Johnson in the May primary. It is not clear that Pence could win a presidential primary race in Indiana.

U.S. Senate

McDermott unloads on Importantville

Importantville’s Adam Wren: The Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate has lost some of the maverick mojo that first made him an enticing matchup on paper with Sen. Todd Young. It began when he reversed course recently on his comments about possibly supporting the Supreme Court nomination of fellow Notre Dame alum Amy Coney Barrett, citing the need to use the bathroom. The candidate unloaded on us when Importantville noted last week in a 66-word item that McDermott was struggling with fundraising, citing comments on his podcast complaining that his campaign wasn’t getting glowing press. “You ever stop to think that you, and people in the media who think and write things like you do, are part of the problem in American politics today?” the otherwise affable Hammond mayor told Importantville. “Focusing solely on money raised as an indicator of success is narrow and shortsighted, part of the reason America is in the dismal shape it’s in today.” Within an hour, his campaign spokesperson reached out to apologize: “I understand the mayor texted you. I don’t know why he’s so mad. I have no issue with what you wrote.” (McDermott later apologized.)

FiveThirtyEight has Dems on upswing

As was the case when we launched the forecast a month ago, the Deluxe version of FiveThirtyEight’s midterm model still rates the battle for control of the Senate as a “toss-up.” But within that category there’s been modest, but consistent movement toward Democrats. Their chances of winning the Senate now stand at 55%. That’s up from 47% from forecast launch on June 30. It’s also up from 40% in a retroactive forecast dated back to June 1.1 This is matched by Democrats’ improved position on the generic congressional ballot, which asks voters which party they would support in a congressional election. Democrats are now essentially tied with Republicans in our generic ballot polling average, after having trailed by 2 to 3 percentage points over most of the late spring and early summer.

Congress

3rd CD: Gotsch certified for ballot

Independent congressional candidate Nathan Gotsch announced that the Indiana Secretary of State’s office has officially certified that he will be appearing on the general election ballot for the state’s 3rd Congressional District this fall. He also announced his plans to hold public campaign events in all 13 counties that make up the district during the month of August. “The best part of campaigning is getting the chance to talk with voters,” said Gotsch, “and I’m excited to travel to every corner of the District in the next few weeks, telling them about who I am and why I’m running, and learning more about the issues most important and relevant to them.” Horse Race Status: Safe Banks

Mayor

Jeffersonville: Moore seeking 4th term

Incumbent Republican Mayor Mike Moore announced Monday he will seek a fourth term. Moore, who was first elected in 2011 as Jeffersonville’s mayor, made the announcement in a video posted on social media. Over the past decade, Jeffersonville has prospered with the addition of new businesses, good paying jobs, upgraded infrastructure and improved parks, Moore said in the video (Suddeath, News & Tribune). “Let’s keep investing in our neighborhoods, focusing on our foundation and growing responsibly,” Moore said in announcing his 2023 run. “We’re on an exciting path of unprecedented growth and prosperity. Our city is stronger than ever. Let’s keep moving forward, together.” Moore previously owned Jerry’s Family Restaurant prior to winning the mayor’s race in 2011.  “What we’re doing is working. Look around Jeffersonville and you will see we’re a city on the move. We’re the place where businesses and families want to call home. But our work isn’t done,” Moore said “That’s why I’m excited about our future. Together let’s build upon what we’ve done and enjoy even more success.”

New Haven: McMichael seeks 2nd term

Mayor Steve McMichael is seeking a second term (Filchak, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette). More than 30 people gathered Monday on the factory floor of Continental Diamond Tool in New Haven to hear about McMichael’s political intentions. Before making his announcement, McMichael shared the progress New Haven has made since he was first elected mayor in 2019. McMichael, a former a real estate agent and city councilman, said he knows “how government functions and more importantly – how it doesn’t.” “I was mocked talking about how experience, relationships and judgement can be effective,” McMichael said. “I stand here today on the first day of Month 32 of this administration, and I show you what experience, relationships and judgement bring to a community. So many times, government interferes with commerce and business. Government should never be the reason that development does not happen. We cannot stop capitalism.”

Marc Short to speak to Vigo GOP

Former Pence chief of staff Marc Short will address Vigo County Republicans on Tuesday, Aug. 30 at the Wallace Family Estate, 1701 Royal Acres, Terre Haute. Tickets start at $37.50 or $50 after Aug. 18. Tickets can be purchased at tickets@vigo.gop.com.

Presidential

Trump at 37% in Indiana

A poll of 800 likely Hoosier voters shows that when it comes to the 2024 election, nearly a third said they would vote for someone other than Joe Biden, Donald Trump, or Mike Pence (Indy Politics). The poll was taken last month and conducted by ARW Strategies. It showed former President Trump with 37% support,  Biden with 32%, and nearly 27% wanting someone else. Biden also loses to former vice president Mike Pence, albeit not as much.  Pence beats Biden, 31-29%.  However, more than 32% say they wanted someone else. “Both of these potential head-to-heads showcase a problem both parties are suffering. A not insignificant portion of voters want someone new and don’t want a rematch of 2020.  To see nearly a quarter of voters indicate they’d rather vote for someone else than Donald Trump or Joe Biden looks to me a clear sign that the country could be ready to embrace a viable third-party candidate,” said pollster Andrew Weissert.

Centrist party forms

Three separate groups of Republicans, Democrats and Independents announced Wednesday that they are coming together under one umbrella to form a new political party. The goal of the new Forward party is to build a new kind of political party that it claims represents the interests of the majority of Americans who “reject extremism and division” (CBS News). The new Forward party merges the Forward Party, created last year by 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang; the Republican-led Renew America Movement which was started to encourage Americans to put country over party; and the Serve America Movement, established in 2017 and led by former GOP Congressman David Jolly.