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GOP Has Big Hoosier Dreams Next Year

In an attempt to recover the three Indiana seats they lost in the 2006 cycle, House Republicans are again setting their sights on the Hoosier State.

After failing to give any Indiana Democrat a tough challenge last cycle, Republicans already have a candidate in place against Rep. Baron Hill and said they are on the verge of recruiting competitive candidates to run against Democratic Reps. Joe Donnelly and Brad Ellsworth.

Local and state Republicans are especially looking to target Hill and Donnelly, who they believe could be vulnerable in 2010 and beyond. Next year’s races could also put some of the GOP candidates in a strong position to run again in 2012 after redistricting, which Hoosier State Republicans are poised to control.

Many Republicans view Hill’s district as their best shot at picking up an Indiana seat next year, in part because it’s the only district in which they have fielded an official candidate. But out of the three competitive districts, Hill’s southern Indiana territory has also more consistently voted for Republicans.

Attorney Todd Young (R) entered the race against Hill in January, but it’s unclear whether he might have some company. Former Rep. Mike Sodrel (R), who has faced off against Hill in the past four elections, has not ruled out running for a fifth time.

“Not prepared to make any statement for or against at this point,— Sodrel said in a phone interview on Monday. “Let’s put it this way: I have not discounted that possibility, but I’m certainly not ready to make an announcement either.—

Indiana Republicans say it’s unlikely that Sodrel will run next year, especially after only garnering 38 percent of the vote last time around.

National Republican Congressional Committee officials have met with Young, and GOP aides have said they would prefer he run against Hill instead of Sodrel.

Young already has the backing of several statewide officials, and former Vice President Dan Quayle is scheduled to do a fundraiser for him next month. Quayle, a former Senator from Indiana, is related to the candidate’s wife.

But even Indiana Republicans acknowledge that Young will face an uphill climb against Hill.

“He needs four or five things to go right,— one Indiana operative said. “If those things break for him, then I think he’s got a real chance.—

The 9th district might be particularly alluring not because of the 2010 cycle but because of the 2012 cycle. Indiana Republicans are poised to control redistricting for the first time in a couple of decades next year.

Hill is also rumored to be mulling a gubernatorial bid in 2012. Any candidate who can mount a good campaign in 2010 would be in a strong position to run again in 2012, when it could be an open-seat race.

Young said in an interview that he was not thinking ahead to 2012 because his goal is to win next year.

“Candidly, I don’t think much about that,— Young said. “From the beginning, I thought this district was very winnable on the one-cycle plan.—

Democratic pollster Fred Yang, who works for Ellsworth and Hill, said Hoosier Democrats have performed better in midterm election cycles because Indiana has typically voted for Republican presidential contenders. Hill, for example, lost re-election to Sodrel in 2004, then won his seat back in the 2006 midterm cycle.

But the 2008 cycle was different because a Democratic presidential candidate won Indiana for the first time in several decades.

“The thing about Indiana is it tends to go against the grain,— Yang said. “I can only speak for the 8th and 9th. They’re both used to running in very tough districts regardless of who is president.—

Although most Republicans still view the 9th district as their best pickup opportunity, that could change if their desired candidate gets into the race against Donnelly. State Rep. Jackie Walorski is “thinking about it— and “seriously considering a bid— against Donnelly, according to a source close to her.

“She has been a candidate of interest certainly to the NRCC and others since [Rep. Chris Chocola] lost in 2006,— the source said.

The NRCC attempted to recruit Walorski last cycle, but she declined to run. She may change her mind this time around, though, because the national mood is poised to favor Republicans in 2010. President Barack Obama carried Donnelly’s district by a 9-point margin in 2008, but President George W. Bush won there in 2004 by 13 points.

What’s more, the district could also be a prime target in redistricting. With Rep. Peter Visclosky (D) representing a safe Democratic seat to the west of Donnelly’s district and safe Republican districts on all other sides, the 2nd district is a logical target for Republicans to redraw in their favor.

Walorski could ultimately be in a strong position if she loses in 2010 but runs again in the redrawn territory in 2012.

Many GOP operatives familiar with the state said Ellsworth’s 8th district would be the toughest to take back in 2010. Even though Republicans have carried the district on the state and national level in recent cycles, Ellsworth won his election and re-election with at least 61 percent of the vote each time.

Evansville surgeon Larry Buschon (R) is considering a bid, according to several sources in the state, but he has not made an announcement yet.

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