By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS – State Sen. Jim Merritt will leave the Indiana Senate in November, but he’s not retiring. “I don’t like the term ‘retiring,’” he told Howey Politics Indiana Tuesday morning. “I want to take some time, write a book or two and test the waters for ‘24. I still have a lot of juice in the tank.” 

Specifically, his reference to 2024 was a potentially open gubernatorial seat, assuming Gov. Eric Holcomb wins in November. Merritt lost the 2019 Indianapolis mayoral race to Democrat Joe Hogsett. “It was difficult running for mayor from the Senate,” he said. “I want to volunteer at food banks and not have it look like it’s a political stunt.”

Merritt’s departure from the Senate could be seen as the final chapter in the change of the guard, that began when Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley stepped down, followed by Senate Budget Chairman Brandt Hershman and then Senate President Pro Tem David Long. 

Merritt ends his Senate career with just over $3,255 in his campaign account (Long has $380,813; Kenley still has $143,591, while Hershman has $224,537).

As for the 2024 field, those we expect or suspect to consider running include Lt. Gov. Suzann Crouch, Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness, U.S. Reps. Jim Banks and Trey Hollingsworth, and Health & Human Services Sec. Alex Azar are names we’re hearing.

Holcomb campaign pushes absentee

Despite President Trump’s railing against vote by mail, Gov. Eric Holcomb’s reelection campaign is pushing absentee balloting for its supporters. In an email to supporters, the campaign said, “If you are thinking about voting absentee this year, we want to make sure that you have all the resources you need to make that happen. Our crew pulled together all the relevant reasons, deadlines, and resources you’ll need! Voting absentee by-mail is secure, with longtime protocols in place that protect the sanctity of your vote.” It noted there are 11 requirements for requesting an absentee by-mail ballot, which were established by the Indiana General Assembly. Horse Race Status: Safe Holcomb.

Statewides


Attorney General: ISTA backs Weinzapfel

Democrat Jonathan Weinzapfel welcomed the endorsement of more than 40,000 Hoosier educators from across the state. The Indiana State Teachers Association’s Political Action Committee for Education, an affiliate of the National Education Association, officially endorsed Weinzapfel’s candidacy for attorney general.  “As a son of an educator, a parent, a former leader in higher education and as someone who cares deeply about the quality of education we are providing our kids, this endorsement means a lot,” said Weinzapfel.. “There is no more important job out there than that of a teacher. And, as attorney general I am going to do everything I can to support them as well as our students and parents.”

Weinzapfel, Rokita differ on marijuana

Weinzapfel responded to his Republican opponent’s attack on social media over his position on marijuana decriminalization. “Today, my opponent attacked me for supporting the decriminalization of marijuana and for saying we shouldn’t lock people up for possessing it in small amounts,” Weinzapfel said. “While former Congressman Todd Rokita may want to lock people up for cannabis, I do not.  Given all the challenges Indiana faces, spending our tax dollars and law enforcement resources on throwing people in jail for possessing small amounts of marijuana just doesn’t make sense. As Indiana’s next attorney general, I will focus my attention on going after drug dealers and working with local law enforcement to keep our communities safe. I will support the creation of more drug courts, promote alternative sentencing that focuses on treatment and will continue to support the medical use of marijuana and decriminalizing its possession in small amounts.” Horse Race Status: Leans Rokita.

Congress


5th CD: Hale seeks bipartisanship

The nation has learned lessons this year from the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, according to congressional candidate Christina Hale (de la Bastide, Anderson Herald Bulletin). Lawmakers, she said, should work in the same direction. Hale was in Anderson on Wednesday to meet with business leaders. She spoke to members of One Nation Indivisible Madison County at Mounds State Park. “The issues are not Republican or Democrat, they are community issues,” Hale said. “When I served in the Indiana House I passed 60 bills with bipartisan support.” Hale, a Democrat, is running against Republican Victoria Spartz in November for the seat that will be left open by incumbent Republican Susan Brooks. No stranger to tough runs for elective office, Hale believes she’s in a position to win the 5th Congressional District race. In 2012, she defeated incumbent Republican Cindy Noe by 51 votes for a seat in the Indiana House. “If elected, I’m determined to look for people on the other side of the aisle,” she said. “No one party has all the good ideas.”

Hale/Spartz town hall Sept. 22

The Indiana Town Halls debate fearing 5th CD nominees Christina Hale and Victoria Spartz will be broadcast live over WFYI TV at 7 p.m. Sept. 22 and live streamed. Jim Shella will moderate.

PAC running ad against Spartz

The Women Voters PAC has entered the 5th CD race, aiming negative ads against Republican nominee Victoria Spartz, who it describes as a pawn of “big insurance” She’s proven to put big insurance before kids,” the ad says.

Presidential 2020

Buttigieg on Biden transition team


Former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg was named to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s transition team. He joins former Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice; former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates; Jared Bernstein, a longtime Biden economic adviser; and Dr. Vivek Murthy; former U.S. surgeon general. Biden also named four co-chairs: Anita Dunn, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Rep. Cedric Richmond, and former Delaware Sen. Ted Kaufman.

Trump up 8% in Indiana


President Trump held an 8% lead in Indiana in a CBS/YouGov Tracking poll. Trump had a 53-45% lead over Democrat Joe Biden. The MOE was 6%. In Michigan, Biden led 53-45%. In Pennslyvania, Biden had a 52-47% lead. In Wisconsin, Biden led 50-44%. In Texas, Trump led 50-48%. It was tied in Ohio at 49%. In North Carolina, Biden led 51-47%. Biden led Trump in Florida 52-47% and led in Georgia 51-47%. In Arizona, Trump trailed Biden 50-48%.

Trump goes on record with Woodward


President Trump, who rails about anonymous sources, is suddenly confronted with an extensive, unsparing, on-the-record account of his thinking about America’s virus and race crises — and he’s the source. Instead of “Rage,” Bob Woodward could have called his book: “Undeniable” (Axios). We get a torrent of tweeted and spoken words from Trump — far more public musing, riffing and ranting than from any president, ever. But it’s not always clear what to believe, what matters, or what will endure.Now, we can read and hear Trump free-associating for history. Woodward tapped Trump’s vanity and insecurity to secure an astonishing 18 interviews, totaling nine hours, with the most powerful man in the world. Woodward was allowed to record all the on-the-record sessions. Audio snippets were released yesterday along with extensive excerpts from the book, out Tuesday. We know Trump likes to talk to famous people — he complained publicly after he wasn’t interviewed for Woodward’s brutal 2018 Trump book, “Fear.” So now we have the president — as he fights for reelection 54 days before Election Day — admitting that he deliberately “played down” the coronavirus, at a time when more urgency could have saved lives “Yes, this is the tragedy,” Woodward says. “A president of the United States has a duty to warn. The public will understand that. But if they get the feeling that they’re not getting the truth, then you’re going down the path of deceit and cover-up.” (Video)

Trump campaign’s fund lead evaporates
 
Money was supposed to have been one of the great advantages of incumbency for President Trump, much as it was for President Barack Obama in 2012 and George W. Bush in 2004. After getting outspent in 2016, Mr. Trump filed for reelection on the day of his inauguration — earlier than any other modern president — betting that the head start would deliver him a decisive financial advantage this year (New York Times). It seemed to have worked. His rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr., was relatively broke when he emerged as the presumptive Democratic nominee this spring, and Mr. Trump and the Republican National Committee had a nearly $200 million cash advantage. Five months later, Mr. Trump’s financial supremacy has evaporated. Of the $1.1 billon his campaign and the party raised from the beginning of 2019 through July, more than $800 million has already been spent. Now some people inside the campaign are forecasting what was once unthinkable: A cash crunch with less than 60 days until the election, according to Republican officials briefed on the matter. 

Biden up by 9% in PA

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump by a 9-point margin among likely voters in Pennsylvania, a key swing state where Biden was born, according to a new NBC News/Marist poll. The survey finds that Biden leads 53-44%.

Trump, Biden tied in Florida

President Donald Trump and Joe Biden are close to tied in Florida, tightening the gap in a critical swing state, according to a poll released on Tuesday (Politico). The NBC News/Marist poll showed support for the Republican and Democratic tickets evenly split, at 48% each, among likely voters in the state.  Among registered voters, 47% supported Biden’s ticket while 48% supported Trump’s .

Biden leads in Ohio Rasmussen poll

Biden holds a four-point lead over President Trump in Ohio, a state that historically has been a must-win for Republicans. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone and online survey of Likely Voters in the Buckeye State finds Biden leading the president 49% to 45%. Three percent (3%) prefer some other candidate, while another three percent (3%) remain undecided.