Hoosier party? No one spent even a minute thinking about Indiana’s Senate race

Todd Young 2018
Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., speaks at a campaign rally featuring President Donald Trump at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Ind., Monday, Nov. 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Hoosier party? No one spent even a minute thinking about Indiana’s Senate race

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Did you know there was a Senate race in Indiana this year? Well, its winner was just projected by NBC without any ceremony, almost instantly after the polls closed. Sen. Todd Young (R) will win reelection to a second term.

It feels like nobody discussed this race at any point in this entire cycle — at least not that I heard of. I’m sure I read about it at some point, but I still had to look up the name of Young’s Democratic challenger, Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott (D).

As a native Hoosier, I find it fascinating that Democrats couldn’t even mount a semi-credible campaign against a low-profile freshman senator in a state that elected Joe Donnelly (D) to the Senate in 2012 and which Barack Obama even carried in 2008. Democrats used to nominate and elect candidates all across the state — Tim Roemer in South Bend, Brad Ellsworth in Evansville, Baron Hill in the south, and of course Pete Visclosky in and around Lake County. Indiana was a Republican-leaning state even at that point, but it has become much more so in the time since. Democrats lost their toehold in the state legislature in 2010, and it’s been downhill from there.

Today, Indiana is starting to look more like Idaho politically. I don’t think we’re going to see any Democrats win there statewide for quite a long time, and it already feels like they’re not trying anymore.

How did this happen? I go back a lot, and I don’t think the composition of Indiana has changed much. I do, however, think the Democratic Party has moved far to the Left in the time since Democrats such as Frank O’Bannon and Joe Kernan were serving as governor and Evan Bayh (D) represented the state in the Senate. (I’m not old enough to remember his father, Birch Bayh.) But of course, Young snuffed out Bayh’s comeback bid in 2016 to win this seat in the first place.

And then there’s Donald Trump, who I think deserves some of the credit. There are some states where Trump really turns people off, such as Virginia and Georgia. But Indiana is definitely Trump country — his was exactly the right sort of Republican message, which is why he crushed it in the primary and then defeated Hillary Clinton by 19 points in 2016. He slightly improved his vote total to 57% in 2020.

The true test of Indiana’s transformation, however, will likely come later tonight. Indiana’s 1st Congressional District, which the state legislature left mostly intact during redistricting, is the perfect proving ground for the sort of blue-collar Republicanism that Donald Trump made ascendant within the Republican Party. It is a multiracial and only narrowly Democratic district that includes some of the ugliest, left-behind cities (including Gary and Hammond) you’ll find anywhere in America.

Republicans have fielded a credible underdog candidate in Jennifer-Ruth Green. The polls close an hour later in that part of the state, so it might take a few hours to find out whether she managed to oust incumbent Rep. Frank Mrvan (D). The last Republican to hold the seat was swept out in the 1930 election. The last black woman to hold it lost her renomination in 1984. Perhaps Green can break both of those streaks tonight.

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