Tight congressional races top state's delayed primary

By TOM DAVIES
The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — The final votes will soon be cast for Indiana’s primary election after it was upended by the coronavirus outbreak amid aggressive campaigns for two congressional seats where incumbents are retiring.

Health concerns prompted state officials to delay Tuesday’s primary by four weeks from its original May 5 date and push widespread mail-in balloting for the first time. That led to nearly 550,000 voters requesting mail-in ballots — more than 10 times the number of those ballots cast during the 2016 primary.

Candidates largely lost the chance at in-person campaigning and struggled to gain attention among voters under the state’s coronavirus restrictions since mid-March.

Here is some of what’s at stake in the primary:

Top offices

Unlike 2016 when both the Republican and Democratic presidential races weren’t settled ahead of Indiana’s primary, that drama is missing this year to draw voters.

Indiana has 82 pledged delegates for the Democratic presidential nomination. Former Vice President Joe Biden is the last active candidate although he hasn’t yet won enough delegates to secure the bid. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is among nine candidates who are listed on the Democratic ballot.

President Donald Trump has wrapped up the Republican nomination.

Both Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and Democratic business executive Woody Myers are unopposed for their party’s gubernatorial nominations for the November election.

5th Congressional District

The 15-candidate scrum for the Republican nomination to replace GOP Rep. Susan Brooks largely turned into a contest of Trump loyalty. The district has been a Republican bastion for decades, but Democrats are targeting it for the fall election as its suburban Indianapolis areas have become less solidly GOP.

Victoria Spartz has flooded TV screens and mailboxes with ads fueled largely by $900,000 she has loaned to her campaign. That has enabled Spartz to build name identification as a first-time candidate after two years in the state Senate from being picked by party activists to complete a retired senator’s term.

She’s also benefited from more than $400,000 in campaign spending by the Washington-based anti-tax Club for Growth, which paid for TV ads highlighting past criticisms of Trump by fellow candidates Carl Brizzi, a former Marion County prosecutor, and business owner Beth Henderson.

Henderson has hit back by promoting her endorsement from Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Braun and swiping at Spartz, who immigrated from Ukraine as a young adult, by saying “I was born in the USA” in one TV ad.

“The question is can she or anybody stand up to literally an avalanche of money here in this primary,” said Mike Murphy, a former Marion County Republican chairman who unsuccessfully ran for the congressional seat in 2010.

State Treasurer Kelly Mitchell, pediatric physician Chuck Dietzen and youth pastor Micah Beckwith are among the other candidates looking to emerge from the crowded GOP field.

Indiana Democrats, meanwhile, have largely backed former state Rep. Christina Hale, who was the 2016 Democratic lieutenant governor nominee, and she has already raised more than $1 million. Hale is being challenged by Dee Thornton, the party’s 2018 candidate for the seat who’s been endorsed by the Congressional Black Caucus PAC.


1st Congressional District

Rep. Pete Visclosky’s retirement after 36 years in Congress prompted several prominent Democrats to square off for the chance to replace him in the party’s northwestern Indiana stronghold.

Five-term Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott likely started with an advantage from his high-profile position, but Visclosky endorsed Frank Mrvan, a Lake County township trustee whose father is a longtime state senator.

Lake County makes up about two-thirds of the district’s ballots and those will likely also be split with state Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon of Munster, Gary attorney Sabrina Haake and Melissa Borom of Gary, a former Visclosky aide who’s been endorsed by several members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Valparaiso attorney Jim Harper, who was the 2018 Democratic candidate for secretary of state, is the best-known candidate from outside Lake County and has campaigned as an unabashed supporter of “Medicare for All” and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal.

Lake County Democratic Chairman James Wieser, who hasn’t endorsed any candidates, said he expected a close outcome and that the coronavirus limitations hurt the chances of lesser knowns among the 14 Democratic hopefuls to get their message out.

“You could make it up in the past by wearing out your shoes and going door to door and going community to community, you just can’t do that,” Wieser said.


Legislative races

Nominees are being decided for all 100 Indiana House and 25 state Senate seats in the primary.

A costly Republican battle full of negative TV ads has been waged in the suburban Indianapolis district that Spartz gave up for her congressional race. JR Gaylor, who is president and CEO of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Indiana and Kentucky, is running against Scott Baldwin, the owner of a construction management company.

Gaylor’s organization represents non-union contractors and was a major supporter of the Republican-backed 2012 law banning employees from being required to pay union dues or fees and the 2015 repeal of the state law setting wages for public construction projects. A construction union group has funded anti-Gaylor commercials and mailings in hopes of boosting Baldwin, who has support from the Republican mayors of Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville and Westfield.

An open Senate seat in the heavily Democratic Bloomington area features state Democratic Party Chairman John Zody against Shelli Yoder, a former Monroe County Council member who was the party’s 9th Congressional District nominee in 2012 and 2016.




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