The GOP establishment is poised for at least one big victory Tuesday in Indiana.
In the race to replace retiring Sen. Dan Coats, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a handful of groups with ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have shelled out millions to ensure that Rep. Todd Young is the party's nominee against Democratic former Rep. Baron Hill.
Even as Donald Trump gained momentum in the Hoosier State, recent polls showed Young pulling away from Rep. Marlin Stutzman, a tea-party favorite.
The Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Fund bundled money for Stutzman’s campaign, but he hasn’t benefitted from any significant outside spending, as has Young. The House Freedom Caucus member also faced a handful of campaign stumbles in recent weeks, including revelations that he used campaign funds to finance a family trip—which he later reimbursed—and also paid a relative six figures for campaign-related work.
The absence of Stutzman’s allies turned a primary that looked likely to reignite familiar intraparty rivalries into a largely one-sided race. While outsider candidates have dominated the presidential contest, Stutzman’s opponents came in early to paint him as an insider, forcing him to play defense as he trailed Young in fundraising.
Either Republican would be favored to hold the seat in a race against Hill, but the heavy investment on the part of the GOP establishment reflects the volatile state of the Senate map. As Trump advances in the presidential contest, party leaders are taking no chances with their Senate prospects, even in red Indiana—especially with its recent history in the state.
Republicans were dealt a surprise there four years ago when tea-party favorite Richard Mourdock defeated Sen. Richard Lugar in the Republican primary, then lost to Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly thanks in large part to self-inflicted wounds. Stutzman is no Mourdock, but Democrats have made it clear he is the candidate they’d rather face, while national Republicans prefer to see the race in the hands of trusted operatives working with Young.
Beyond the Senate and presidential primaries, the congressmen’s Senate bids opened two safe Republican House seats, setting off contested primaries likely to determine their district’s next representatives.
3rd District—Open (Stutzman running for Senate)
National conservative groups hope to replace Stutzman with Jim Banks, a reliable ally from the state Senate. But Banks, who campaigned on his military background, faces a challenge from a Republican running as a political outsider, farmer Kip Tom. State Sen. Liz Brown is also competing in the primary, where most Republicans give Banks a slight edge. Banks enjoyed support from outside groups, including the Club for Growth and the House Freedom Fund, the political arm of the House Freedom Caucus. Last month, an independent poll commissioned by the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics found Banks leading with 29 percent of the vote, followed by Tom at 23 percent and Brown at 22 percent.
9th District—Open (Young running for Senate)
The GOP primary for Young’s seat evolved into a relatively high-profile and costly race, thanks to heavy self-funding from businessman Trey Hollingsworth, who moved to the district last year. Hollingsworth’s top rivals, state Sen. Erin Houchin and state Attorney General Greg Zoeller, accused him of being a carpetbagger trying to buy elected office. Hollingsworth donated more than $1 million of his own money to his campaign and was boosted by an additional $370,000 from a super PAC funded by his father. Houchin, his closest financial competitor, spent $195,000 from Jan. 1 to April 13. Last month, a super PAC called Frugal Hoosiers went up with a series of radio ads attacking Hollingsworth as "Tennessee Trey,” referring to his home state. The primary offers the next test case for a self-funded House candidate, after wine retailer David Trone, who spent $12 million of his money, lost a Democratic primary in Maryland last week.