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The Indiana Races: A State of the Field

by: Nonpartisan

Sun Jan 24, 2010 at 3:07 AM EST

Indiana is where I live now, so I thought I'd do a rundown here too, though I don't know the politics as well and the results won't be as interesting as for the Arizona races.  The big story here is a colossal recruiting failure on the part of Republicans in IN-01, IN-02, and IN-08, and a sticky situation for them in IN-09.  As of now, I predict only one competitive race in the entire state in 2010.  Read on for more...
Nonpartisan :: The Indiana Races: A State of the Field
IN-Sen: Evan Bayh is beloved in this state.  I've heard liberals and conservatives alike talk about how great he is -- it's the darnedest thing.  Plus, he's sitting on $12 million, which is what happens when you don't seriously challenge a guy for twelve years.  State Sen. Martin Stutzman and former Rep. John Hostettler aren't going to give Bayh much of a scare.  Rep. Mike Pence could pose a stiffer challenge, but it's not at all clear that he's going to pull the trigger.  Even if Pence did run, the smart money would still be on Bayh; his iconic status and unbelievable warchest would make him difficult to beat even in the best of electoral climates for Republicans.  Prediction: Likely Dem hold.

IN-01: Exhibit A in the GOP's recruiting woes saga in this state.  Rep. Pete Visclosky is embroiled in scandal and being investigated by the FBI, and even though it's a deep-blue district, the Republicans should put up a Joe Cao-like candidate in case Visclosky's legal troubles worsen.  So far, all they've been able to manage is frequent candidate and carpenter Mark Leyva, last seen getting pasted by Visclosky last cycle...and the cycle before...and the one before that...and the one before that.  Yes, Leyva has been the Republican nominee against Visclosky four consecutive times, and is trying for his fifth -- a situation roughly analogous to that in IN-09.  Leyva's best showing was 32% back in 2004, so there's nothing going on in this district unless someone else steps up.  Prediction: safe Dem hold.

IN-02: Rep. Joe Donnelly is always afraid he's going to lose this red seat, but he just keeps getting lucky.  The GOP's infamous recruiting failure here last cycle resulted in their hand-picked candidate, Luke Puckett, nearly losing the primary to a neo-Nazi sympathizer en route to getting steamrolled 67-30 by Donnelly.  Republicans put some muscle into getting a better recruit this time, but the candidate they got, State Rep. Jackie Wilarski, is scarcely better than Puckett.  Given the national climate and the district's lean, this seat should be the Republicans' for the taking, but "Wacky Jackie" isn't going to cut the mustard.  Unless someone else steps up for the Republicans, Donnelly only loses in a 70-seat landslide.  Prediction: likely Dem hold.

IN-03: The Democrats have a better candidate in this race than they have any right to expect given the national mood and the hard-right lean of the district: Tom Hayhurst, a medical doctor and former Fort Wayne City Councilman.  Hayhurst came shockingly close to beating Rep. Mark Souder back in 2006, garnering 46% of the vote despite a complete lack of national Democratic support.  Had he made his second try in a better year for Democrats -- for instance, in 2008 -- Hayhurst might have had a shot at this seat.  As it is, the national Democrats will have too many incumbents to defend to bother with a long-shot race like this one, and Souder righted his sputtering campaign machine in a convincing 2008 win over 28-year-old attorney Michael Montagano.  Souder has to be heavily favored to win both his primary against former congressional aide Phil Troyer and Paulist Rachel Grubb, and the general election against Hayhurst.  If Grubb or Troyer somehow beat Souder in the primary, however, Hayhurst might have a chance.  Prediction: likely GOP hold.

IN-04: Last cycle, attorney Nels Ackerson briefly posed a serious challenge to Rep. Steve Buyer before completely imploding on the campaign trail.  This year, no one is even bothering to run against the well-funded and effective Buyer.  Prediction: safe GOP hold.

IN-05: In the most conservative district in Indiana, the only question is which of the ten thousand conservative Republicans running -- including incumbent Rep. Dan Burton -- will be on hand to steamroll cancer physician Nasser Hanna in the general election.  Prediction: safe GOP hold.

IN-06: This district, represented by arch-conservative Rep. Mike Pence, is actually somewhat interesting in that it's the most moderate district in Indiana currently represented by a Republican -- more so than IN-03, which was seriously in play during the past two cycles.  Pence's personal popularity and influence in Washington has kept it safe for him, but with rumors that he'll be moving up to Senate or Presidential races soon (either this cycle or next), there would seem to be an opening here for a popular and/or well-funded Democrat.  On the other hand, the complete lack of Dem candidates running for the seat this cycle -- exactly zero last time I checked -- indicates that this isn't the year to bank on a pickup here.  Prediction: safe GOP hold.

IN-07: Republicans used to do well in this district because the incumbent, former Rep. Julia Carson, was too ill to campaign.  When her grandson Andre trounced the most popular Republican in the district by 13 points in a 2007 special election, the GOP realized those days were over.  The Republicans aren't even trying this cycle; college professor Marvin Scott, last seen getting 38% of the vote against Evan Bayh in 2004, won't pose much of a threat to Carson.  Prediction: safe Dem hold.

IN-08: The "bloody Eighth" stopped being bloody after wildly popular sheriff Brad Ellsworth beat Rep. John Hostettler by 24 points back in 2006.  The Republicans might have a shot at this seat given the national climate, but Ellsworth is so popular that no serious candidate has stepped up thus far.  Hostettler would rather make a kamikaze run against Evan Bayh than face Ellsworth again, and cardiologist Larry Bucshon won't even make Ellsworth break a sweat.  Prediction: safe Dem hold.

IN-09: This is the main show in Indiana this cycle, and it's one residents of the district have seen four times before.  Get ready for the fifth installment of Rep. Baron Hill vs. former Rep. Mike Sodrel.  Hill is 3-1 in their previous matchups, including a 20-point pasting of Sodrel in 2008 (all three of the other races were very close).  A new poll, however, shows Sodrel beating Hill by eight points if the election were held today.  I don't doubt that people in this district are fed up with Hill -- his milquetoast campaign style has failed to make him as entrenched as Ellsworth is in the neighboring district -- but I really can't see them voting for Sodrel after they basically told him to take his ball and go home just fourteen months ago.  If Sodrel wins his primary against attorney Todd Young and teabagger Travis Hankins, I'd have to say Hill is favored to win reelection.  It's just as likely, though, that the establishment candidate Young will beat the more conservative Sodrel, and if that happens, Hill's toast.  Since Hill wants to run for governor in 2012, he might also decide to bail on this race; in that case, term-limited Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan, who's been trying to build a national profile lately, might run for the seat, but he's too liberal for the district and would be heavily outgunned by either Sodrel or Young.  On balance, I'd give the slight advantage to the Republicans here.  Prediction: tossup.

Seats in order of likelihood of flipping: IN-09, IN-Sen, IN-02, IN-03, IN-01, IN-07, IN-06, IN-08, IN-05, IN-04.

Predicted outcome: Republicans pick up IN-09, Burton loses to another Republican in IN-04, all other seats stay in the same hands (I'm least sanguine about IN-09, and wouldn't count Dems out yet).

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Why would Todd Young be a better canidate?
Sodrel has name recognition and I think he would be a stronger candidate than Young, and I really do not see how Young could survive a primary against well known and well liked (among gop) Sodrel. As for the race being a likely pick up for the GOP, well I suppose you have not lived in the district long enough, because I have seen similar polls about Hill before. Also in 1994 everyone was saying Lee Hamilton would get beat as well, but he kept the seat. It will be competitive because honestly people do not like Hill or Sodrel, however from what I have heard from indies in the past is that they can't stand Sodrel. I know the poll is bad, but give Hill some time. However if Hill does step down, then I would fully agree with you that we don't have a shot in hell at keeping the seat. We do have a good bench though, and I am not just talking about Bloomington, we have some good state legislators as well. As for Bayh I think that you should not automatically count the seat as safe, if Pence runs then it will be competitive, and honestly I think Bayh would squeak by, however do not think that Pence could not pull a Scott Brown, especially in a red state like Indiana.      

Proud member of the Indiana Democratic Party from IN-9.  

Young would be a better candidate
because, as you say, indies hate Sodrel.  Throw them an unknown Republican, and in this electoral climate they'll likely bite.

Also, while I admit to only having lived in the district for a couple of years, Hill is no Lee Hamilton.  I've seen similar polls for him before, but it's worth noting he also lost once before, in a year that wasn't as bad as this one's looking like it might be.

The Crolian Progressive: as great an adventure as ever I heard of...

[ Parent ]
I suppose you are right about Young. However I think that Sodrel will probably beat Young easily. Now as for 2004, when Hill lost by about 2000 votes Kerry lost by about 20% not to mention Mitch on the ticket as well. I am hoping that Hill may be able to get some Bayh coattails (assuming Pence does not run) and yes I know Bayh was on the ticket in 04' but I still think he may be able to help Hill out. Hill was a long shot when he first ran for Congress, and everyone wrote him off, however he won then and he will win now.  

Proud member of the Indiana Democratic Party from IN-9.  

[ Parent ]
The Hill poll worries me
But I'm not convinced that the Ninth is a tossup - yet. I have it at Lean D at the moment. Really, as with many other close districts, who wins just depends on who votes this cycle. If nobody other than irate Republicans and unhappy independents are at the polling stations, Hill's toast.

Excellent roundup, altogether. I do really wish Hayhurst had ran again back in '08...  

Independent Socialist & Chair of SSP Cranky Indianian Hoosier Caucus, IN-09

The thing is this
Hill has never been popular. However people hate, I mean hate Sodrel with a passion. So it depends on how unhappy the independents are, because most do not want to vote for Sodrel. About the poll, I have seen many like it before, and Hill always squeaks by.  

Proud member of the Indiana Democratic Party from IN-9.  

[ Parent ]
going through Sodrel's head? He's run for congress basically every cycle for the last 10 years.  

19, Male, Independent, CA-12

[ Parent ]
Hill and Sodrel HATE each other
I am not talking about normal dislike, but actually hate. I know someone who knows Sodrels cousin and they said the only reason he ran in 2008 was to make it so Hill would have to try. Also there was actually a rumor a while back that Hill punched Sodrel after a debate. Be glad you do not live hear, because they ALWAYS go negative. You could not turn on the T.V. or listen to the radio last year without hearing about millionaire Mike or Hill who endorses extremist left wing radicals. I remember going to the fair a few years back and this little old lady was handing out Bibles that said to vote Mike Sodrel, and she gave one to me and said "You deserve a Congressman who reads that",  I am so proud to say that both of these men have represented me in Congress.  

Proud member of the Indiana Democratic Party from IN-9.  

[ Parent ]
My English
teacher came from Indiana. She was stunned when I guessed correctly that she had grown up in Lake County. She also told me Lake County is radically different from the rest of Indiana.  

19, Male, Independent, CA-12

[ Parent ]
I more or less agree
I think you're pretty much right on with your analysis here.  I think that Burton probably slips through a GOP primary, though, if all of the candidates stay in the race.  He's up agaisnt some heavy hitters, but could win with like 30% of the vote.  But if a couple of them drop out, he's in trouble.

I'm going to be picky and quibble with one point you argue, just because it's about Julia Carson, who I love more than anyone who has been in politics. She was never "too ill to campaign".  Up until a few months before she died, despite her health problems was a very active Congresswoman, up through and including her last re-election in 2006.

Another really important set of elections here in 2010 is going to be the 100 General Assembly seats.  We have a 52-48 advantage right now, with a lot of competitive seats on both sides up.  I think we're going to be hard pressed to hold it.  Although many people (myself included, sometimes) always don't like Speaker Pat Bauer (he is a schmoozy, old-time, back-slapping pol), he's done an excellent job of being the counterweight to Governor Daniels, and has single handedly kept an anti-gay marriage amendment going to the voters.

Julia Carson was great
And her grandson is the best Congressman in the state right now from a progressive point of view.  I love the Carsons, but if it wasn't from illness, why did Julia show so much weakness over an extended period of time when Andre has shown no such weakness?  I'm curious on this one.

The Crolian Progressive: as great an adventure as ever I heard of...

[ Parent ]
Julia built her machine from the ground up ...
... and Andre had it handed to him.  Don't get me wrong -- I think Andre has done a great job as my Congressman, and you're right that he's the only real progressive in the Indiana delegation.  That said, he won a couple of elections in a very, very Democratic year.  That's not the same reality as his grandmother faced, especially running as a liberal black woman in a 70% white district.  Julia was a polarizing figure -- no one here in Indianapolis was ever neutral on her.  While Andre is just as liberal, he seems to have a more conciliatory personality.

[ Parent ]
She was ill a lot
And I don't think she ever campaigned much.

[ Parent ]
Why is Burton being so seriously primaried?
It's not like he's some moderate that you'd expect to be vulnerable to teabaggery.

22, Democrat, AZ-01
Peace. Love. Gabby.

He's a weak candidate, he's weird, and he has some lobbyist issues
It's not so much his ideology which is the problem, it's that he's just not particularly popular, he has a tendency to say unnervingly odd things, and he likes to go golfing with lobbyists instead of participating in House votes. These add up to make him weak enough that any Republican in his district that would like to be a Congressman is willing to roll the dice and primary him.  

Independent Socialist & Chair of SSP Cranky Indianian Hoosier Caucus, IN-09

[ Parent ]
Bluntly put, he's an asshole
He's been around forever, is a skirt-chasing hypocrit and just a flat-out nasty person.  On the issues, he's as right-wing and nutty as his district is, but he's not being challenged on issues or his voting record.

I think he sneaks through again only because several of the people challenging him are serious, fist-tier candidates who are going to split the anti-Burton vote. He seriously could win re-nomination with under 30%.

[ Parent ]

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