The Trump Effect and the Senate, Part 1: Indiana

This is the first part of a continuing series detailing US Senate races in 2016 and the possible effect, if any, the presumptive nominee Donald Trump will have on the race. November match-ups already decided or presumed will be presented.  After the fields are definitely set in other races after late summer primaries will those states be presented.  The first part takes us to Indiana, the state that forced Ted Cruz to suspend his campaign.

Dan Coats, the Republican incumbent, is retiring at the end of the year after one term.  Soon thereafter, Congressman Marlin Stutzman, a Tea Party favorite, announced his candidacy for the vacant spot.  Stutzman had previously lost the 2010 primary to Coats.  Almost immediately, the ears of the Democrats perked up believing that Stutzman would move the party considerably to the Right which would give them a chance in Indiana in an open Senate seat race.  In fact, the Democrats were hoping for a messy GOP primary.

Stutzman’s entry into the race put him in conflict with Eric Holcomb, a former Coats staffer and the favorite of Coats himself.  Additionally, Stutzman was a known thorn in the side of John Boehner.  Then another Congressman, Todd Young, entered the race to succeed Coats.  Holcomb later withdrew from the race to replace the retiring Lt. Governor in Indiana leaving it a two-man race on the GOP side going into the primary.

In the lead-up to Young’s entry, Holcomb had tapped into the donor and support network of former Governor Mitch Daniels, but the Indiana GOP asked politicians to hold off on endorsements until and if Todd Young announced his intentions.  Realistically, if Holcomb had remained in the race it may have split the more establishment vote between himself and Young and allowed Stutzman to win the primary.  Instead, the vacancy in the Lt. Governor’s office presented an opportunity for Holcomb to withdraw after Young announced his candidacy.

There is no doubt that Stutzman was to the right of Young ideologically.  And Young had drawn the ire of some conservatives in 2013 when he voted to end the government shutdown and restore the government’s borrowing authority.  However, Stutzman’s actions during the primary did not exactly endear him to the Indiana GOP.

In order to get on the ballot, one must obtain a certain amount of signatures from each Congressional district in Indiana.  The Democratic Party along with an independent audit by Indiana Public Broadcasting determined that Young fell three signatures short in one district.  They appealed to the Indiana Elections Division.  Stutzman joined them in the fight.  After charges of forgery and some cursing, the Division split 2-2 meaning Young’s name could remain on the primary ballot.  Because the decision came close to the early voting period, the Democrats decided not challenge the Division’s decision in court and neither did Stutzman.

While this was happening, it became known that Stutzman had used campaign funds for an apparent family vacation to the Reagan Library in California.  The campaign said that they repaid the campaign for the trip, but because the family joined him at some political functions, it was legitimate.  It then became known that Stutzman had spent over $300,000 since 2010 from his campaign on various items- more than three times that of Young.

In the end, the testy, contentious, close primary on the GOP side failed to materialize.  On May 3, Young defeated Stutzman by a 2-1 margin in the voting.

On the Democratic side, it was a one-man show as Democrats were hoping that Evan Bayh, the man whom Coats replaced after Bayh retired citing Washington gridlock as the reason, would reconsider and run again.  After all, he failed to dismantle a $10 million fund.  However, he declined those wishes and Baron Hill, the man Young beat in the Congressional race in 2010 in the 9th District entered the Senate race in 2016.  Ironically, Hill ran for Senate once before to fill the vacancy of Dan Quayle, but it was Coats who defeated Baron Hill in that race.

After Young defeated Hill in the 2010 Congressional race, Hill became a lobbyist for APCO Worldwide.  While a member of Congress, Hill was a member of the so-called Blue Dog Coalition- a collection of fiscally conservative Democrats who are now non-existent.  In 2013, he formed his own lobbying firm.  Prior to the Coats retirement, Hill had been contemplating a gubernatorial run against GOP incumbent Mike Pence.

There is only one poll out of Indiana in the Senate race in the lead up to the May 3rd primary.  That poll shows Young up by 18 points over Baron Hill, 48-30.  The Democratic Party’s hopes regarding Indiana may have been inadvertently and falsely raised when Obama won a razor-thin victory here in 2008.  However, they reverted to the GOP column in 2012 going for Mitt Romney.

On election day- May 3rd- over 1 million Republicans cast votes in an important contested presidential primary that featured Donald Trump and, in effect, the last stand of Ted Cruz.  Conversely, there was a fierce battle between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side that turned out 600,000 Democrats for their primary.

In fact, the number of votes cast for just Donald Trump almost exceeded the total between Clinton and Sanders.  If these numbers were to hold in Indiana, then assuming there is a coat tail effect, things would look good for both Trump and Young.  In a CNN exit poll, unlike some other states, 56% of voters who cast a ballot for Trump indicated they were either excited or optimistic about a Trump presidency.  Thus, it would appear that Trump has a solid base unless he alienates it somehow- always a possibility with Donald Trump.

Still at this early stage of the game indications are that Trump should win Indiana as he leads in the average of only two polls by 7-1/2 points over Hillary Clinton.  Even further, Clinton may target this state despite that lead by Trump in order to widen the playing field and put into a play a state that should rightfully belong to the GOP.  The biggest thing playing against that scenario is the popularity of Bernie Sanders and whether those voters will show up on Election day, hold their noses and vote for Hillary.