Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Race of the Day- Indiana U.S. Senate

83 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Open
2012 Presidential Result: Red State (Midwest)

Outlook: Tossup (R)

If Republicans are to keep their brief control of the U.S. Senate this cycle, they will almost certainly have to maintain the hold on their seat in Indiana. A little over a month ago, that seemed to be a fairly reasonable proposition. Now, Democrats have done a bait and switch on candidates, leading to a significant increase in their likelihood of a pickup. Polling is more rare in Indiana than elsewhere, and the ultimate result of this election could be many different things. One distinct possibility is that Democrats will win the race fairly easily, when all is said and done, but I tend to think this has the potential to go down to the wire and in contrast to the state's Gubernatorial contest, my hunch is the Republican might ultimately finish with a slight edge.

The background for this race is pretty unique. In 1998, popular Democrat Governor Evan Bayh, considered a rising star in the party, easily won the seat of retiring Republican Senator Dan Coats, and with it, captured the office once held by his father for nearly 20 years. Coats probably wanted to run for reelection, but knew he might face an uphill battle against the young Bayh, considered a moderate Democrat and rising star, with likely White House aspirations. Bayh was easily reelected in 2004, but surprised many by not running for President in 2008, after having made some surprising overtures to the left, in possible preparation for a nomination bid. As 2010 approached, it started to look more like a Republican year, in a state where the GOP had gained strength. Bayh was planning to seek a third term, but he abruptly ended his campaign, when it became clear that Coats was interested in a comeback attempt. So, the tables had been turned, after Bayh had forced Coats out 12 years earlier. As Bayh made his announcement, just one day before the filing deadline, Democrats had to find a new candidate, but Coats won the seat easily and returned to the Senate.

Now, six years later, Coats is retiring from the Senate once again, setting up an open seat race. While it is true that a fairly unique circumstance in 2012, in which a GOP  incumbent went down to defeat in a primary against an ardent conservative produced one Democrat Senator from the Hoosier State, it looked like the GOP would have the edge in 2016. The Democrat nomination would wind up going to former Congressman Baron Hill, a credible figure, but one with some losses on his resume. In addition to having lost a U.S. Senate race in 1990 to Coats, Hill was twice defeated for reelection in his House district. The most recent loss came in 2010,  to the man who would ultimately win the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.

That candidate is Congressman Todd Young, a politically promising figure with a distinguished career as a Marine and in academia. He defeated Baron Hill to make it to Capitol Hill, and with the Senate seat open in 2016, sought a promotion. First though, he would have to get past an even younger Congressman, who joined him in the 2010 freshman class. Earlier that year, Marlin Stutzman lost a primary for U.S. Senator to Coats, in the former Senator's comeback effort, but made enough of an impression to be selected by the party to fill a nomination vacancy. For a while, the two Congressman were joined in the race by Coats' recent Chief of Staff, Eric Holcomb, but he dropped out of the race, and shortly thereafter filled a vacancy to become Lt. Governor of Indiana, and is now the party's  nominee for the top executive job, after Governor Mike Pence dropped his reelection bid to be shamefully associated for life with Donald Trump.

The  May primary for the U.S. Senate was expected to be hotly contested, as Stutzman had significant social conservative and Tea Party backing, while Young, certainly a conservative in his own right, became the establishment choice. As Ted Cruz, who is similar ideologically to Stutzman made his failed last stand in Indiana, Young won the primary for U.S. Senate by an eye opening 2-1 margin. Young had somehow found a way to unite both establishment GOP types concerned about electability and Donald Trump supporters, who were less concerned about ideological purity scorecards. Young also did this while maintaining an image as a likeable mainstream Republican. The Congressman has stated his support for Donald Trump, but has not actively sought to tie himself to that candidacy, and has expressed disagreements with him.

As the long general election kicked off, it seemed like Young might not have to sweat too much about a statewide rematch against his former local foe, Baron Hill. Then in July, the Democrat candidate, who was struggling to gain any traction, abruptly dropped out of the race, allowing Democrat party leaders to pick his replacement. By this time, they clearly had someone in mind, as behind the scenes, maneuvering had been underway to slate former Senator Evan Bayh, who now was planning to try to succeed Coats for the second time, nearly two decades apart.

There must have been some polling data to indicate that Bayh would have a good shot at winning, with Trump damaging the GOP brand in Indiana, before the Pence selection, because this all came as somewhat of a surprise. Democrats were elated though, as Bayh had never lost an election (having merely quit one once.) Reports of Democrat polling have said that Bayh is ahead of Young at this point by nearly a landslide margin. I happen to have a hard time believing that, but have to concede, that it might be possible, based on name recognition alone.  I will also state that Bayh, at least in theory, is the kind of boring, non-offensive Democrat, who if he were the party nominee, instead of Hillary Clinton, would probably be leading Trump by close to 30 points.

This race is in Indiana though, and must be looked at through that prism. Young is still a solid candidate, and if he has baggage in this race, it is solely due to having to share a ballot with Donald Trump, and having so many people opposed to that Presidential candidacy. Bayh was a popular political figure in the state for years, but he left office with diminished popularity. At the time, he bemoaned life in the Senate and appeared happy to be done with it. Also, instead of returning to Indiana, he made a lot of money as a lobbyist in Washington D.C. and as a political pundit on the right-leaning Fox News Channel. The fact that Bayh was living such a comfortable post-Senate life, including a home in Florida, really made it even more of a surprise that he was willing to ask Indiana voters for another term in office.

This is a race to watch. There is no way that Bayh should be underestimated in Indiana, but it also does not appear that his campaign has a full website up, a month after jumping into the race. There is a history, in both parties, of former Senators attempting comebacks, and falling short. Indiana is still a pretty conservative state and if enough people can overlook the Trump factor, I think Young has a reasonable shot of making his case. I have said that the Gubernatorial race might be a Tossup with a sight edge to Democrats, but I think in a Senate race, it is more likely that the race could be "nationalized" and voters will prefer Young as a balance on what looks like an impeding Administration of Hillary Clinton. If he is to win, Bayh will have to find a compelling way to explain why he left Indiana when it seemed like his political career was over. Just today, a story broke showing how he was contradicted by public records, where he listed Washington D.C. as his home. The Democrat's former U.S. Senate colleague was ousted in a recent GOP primary, in part, because of questions about his residency in the Beltway, over Indiana.

Time will tell to see if there is any reliable further polling on this race. I might definitely have to change my ranking here, because I think either candidate might win by double digits. Right now, I will assume this will be very close in the end.

Young campaign link:


Senate races predicted thus far: 5 D (3 Safe, 1 Likely, 1 Leans), 8 R (3 Safe, 2 Likely, 2 Leans, 1 Tossup) 

Overall predicted thus far: 41 D, 38 R


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