By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS — The dust had barely settled on Tuesday’s mayoral race when U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky dropped a bombshell: The dean of the Indiana congressional delegation won’t seek reelection.

It immediately opened the door for Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. to seek the office he was planning to announce for on Dec. 6. North Township Trustee Frank J. Mrvan also jumped in.

“On Nov. 6, 35 years ago today I was elected to serve as Indiana’s 1st District U.S. representative,” Visclosky wrote. “Today, I announce that I will not seek reelection. For the past 35 years our office has vigorously advocated on behalf of thousands of constituents for assistance on any number of local, state and federal isues. While we could never guarantee positive results, we could guarantee our hard work and best efforts.”

Visclosky invoked The Bard: “Shakespeare wrote, ‘If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches and poor men’s cottages princes’ palaces.’ Progress has not always been easy. In closing, I am forever indebted to the exceptional public servants who have served and continue to serve on my staff. Achievements were the result of the application of their talents and their tireless work.”

It took just minutes for McDermott to officially declare for the race. “Now that our local elections are over and Congressman Pete has announced his intentions not to seek reelection, I want everyone to know that I am a candidate for this office in 2020 and that I intend to be Northwest Indiana’s next congressman,” McDermott said in a text to Howey Politics Indiana.

A few minutes later on the phone, we asked McDermott if he saw this coming.

“Sort of,” McDermott said. “Over the past year I was hearing he was considering retiring.”

But the one big clue came when House Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey announced she would retire. Visclosky quickly responded, saying he would not pursue the chair, preferring to stay on as chair of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee. Another telltale was even with the ambitious McDermott barely containing his aspirations to challenge the dean of the delegation, Visclosky was sitting on a mere $514,851 on his third quarter FEC report.

“When he didn’t pursue the appropriations chair, when he didn’t seek the most powerful spot in Congress, I thought that was odd,” McDermott said.

Visclosky appeared to be preparing for a reelection bid. The NWI Times reported in mid-October the mayor’s and controller’s offices each received extensive requests from the Visclosky campaign for public records covering McDermott’s 15-year tenure as mayor. Specifically, the records request to the mayor’s office seeks documents pertaining to McDermott’s salary as mayor, the mayor’s travel reimbursements, health insurance and other city benefits paid to McDermott, the mayor’s use of city-owned vehicles and telephones, and McDermott’s personal finance disclosures.

At that time, McDermott complained that he had no relationship with Visclosky, despite being mayor of the district’s largest city and the fact that he was Lake County Democratic chairman for several years. “I have a great relationship with almost every elected official in Northwest Indiana — Republican and Democrat,” McDermott told the Times’ Dan Carden. “I’ve made it a priority of mine to have a good relationship with all of the elected officials, and the only one that I really haven’t gotten a chance to know in the 15 years I’ve been mayor is Pete Visclosky. For some reason he wants nothing to do with me or my city.”

McDermott was sending his own signals. “We built up a complex campaign headquarters in Hammond. It was the worst kept secret. We hadn’t said that publicly. There were a lot of people scratching their heads, wondering, ‘Why is he spending that much money. So I’ve got a big headquarters, the McDermott for Congress account open, an EINB number and I’ve got a lot of support running.

“I am confident that I could take on an incumbent with 34 years experience,” McDermott continued. “I didn’t look at it like a suicide mission, but it would have been tough.”

McDermott quickly declared himself the “frontrunner,” something the HPI Horse Race won’t quibble with.
“Most major elected officials will come out and support me. I think I’ll have that kind of support from the Region.”

McDermott expects “five or six” other candidates. Drawing immediate attention will be State Sen. Eddie Melton, who just declared for the gubernatorial race. McDermott said he is supporting Melton for governor, but wouldn’t be surprised if he reconsidered for the 1st CD.

North Township Trustee Frank J. Mrvan announced his campaign on Hammond’s WJOB-AM radio Wednesday morning, proclaiming unions are the “backbone of the Region,” and they need a congressman who “has the strength to fight for them with the ability to work across the aisle to get things done.”“I have been able to bring people together. I have focused on unifying efforts,” Mrvan said.

Presidential 2020

Butttigieg 2nd in Quinnipiac Iowa Poll

With less than 3 months until the Iowa caucuses, the Democratic race for president in Iowa is wide open, as the top four candidates are in a close contest, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. Sen. Elizabeth Warren receives 20% support among Iowa likely Democratic caucus- goers, with South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg getting 19%, Sen. Bernie Sanders at 17%, and former Vice President Joe Biden at 15%. Sen. Amy Klobuchar gets 5%. Those who consider themselves “very liberal,” who make up 24% of likely caucus-goers, are divided in their top choice with Sanders getting 32% and Warren at 30%. Those who identify as “somewhat liberal,” who make up 24% of likely caucus-goers, are split in their top choice between Buttigieg and Warren, with Warren at 29% and Buttigieg at 24%. Among “moderates and conservatives,” who constitute 50% of likely caucus-goers, it’s a close race for the top spot between Buttigieg and Biden, with Buttigieg at 19% and Biden at 18%. “A close race with a crowded field of frontrunners,” said Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Mary Snow. “While Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden, and Sen. Bernie Sanders have held top tier status in national polls for months, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg joins their ranks in the 2020 Iowa caucus. And it’s a race that is up for grabs. Half of likely Democratic caucus-goers who support a candidate say they may change their minds before February 3rd.” 

Trump approval at 52% in Indiana

The Old National Bank/Ball State University 2019 Hoosier Survey shows 52% of Hoosiers approve of President Trump while 40% disapprove. The results are from a telephone survey of 600 adults taken from Oct. 8 -28; the margin of error is 5.2% points. “These survey results show that, despite the recent impeachment inquiry, the President’s approval among Hoosiers continues to hold steady,” Prof. Chad Kinsella of the Ball State’s Bowen Center for Public Affairs, said. “The survey indicates that Trump’s approval is essentially unchanged from last year’s Hoosier Survey.” Kinsella said Trump’s approval is 86% among Republicans, 46% among independents and 11% among Democrats.