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Race Ratings: GOP Poised to Scoop Up a Seat

With two open seats and several freshmen on the ballot, Indiana will be prime political territory in 2012. Two incumbents are seeking statewide office, but don’t expect that to shift much control as Democrats attempt to win back the House. Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly’s Senate bid opens up his 2nd district seat, but given the changes to the district’s boundaries, Republicans are likely to add a member to their delegation. Rep. Mike Pence’s (R) gubernatorial bid translates to a competitive GOP primary and little else in his heavily Republican district. The four freshman Republicans swept into power in the 2010 wave appear largely safe as they seek second terms.

1st District

Incumbent: Peter Visclosky (D)

14th term (59 percent)

Rating: Safe Democratic

Visclosky’s northwestern Indiana district only got more secure for him following redistricting, and local Democrats now say this is their safest seat in the state — even more so than the Indianapolis-based 7th district.

Under the new map, the 1st district shrunk geographically and shifted into the northwestern corner of the state — essentially making its population based in the Chicago suburbs and exurbs. However, what makes the district even more favorable for Democrats is the acquisition of parts of LaPorte County, including Democratic-heavy Michigan City.

Visclosky has won with an overwhelming percentage of the vote in recent cycles, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. In fact, the new map means re-election will likely only get a little bit easier for Visclosky in future cycles.

2nd District

Open seat: Joe Donnelly (D) is running for Senate

Rating: Likely Republican

Even Donnelly did not want to run for re-election here, which speaks volumes about how much this district was affected by Republican-controlled redistricting. Donnelly opted to run for Senate instead of take a chance on his new district, which Republicans in the state Legislature redrew without several Democratic areas.

The most devastating change for 2nd district Democrats was the loss of Kokomo, a middle-class town with heavy union membership and reliable Donnelly voters. Kokomo is now split between the heavily Republican 4th and 5th districts.

The new district also lost part of LaPorte County, including Democratic Michigan City, to the 1st district. Meanwhile, the district picked up the GOP-heavy Elkhart County.

This seat is not unwinnable for Democrats, but it’s not exactly prime competitive territory, either. It’s definitely not the most competitive district in the state anymore. Donnelly would have been Democrats’ best candidate in the 2nd district, and now the party is left searching for someone to give it a shot.

The new district also presents a prime opportunity for Donnelly’s 2010 competitor, former state Rep. Jackie Walorski (R), whose base south of South Bend is now the 2nd’s population center. Walorski, who served in the state House with many of the members who drew the new lines, announced she would run again for the seat before the maps were even proposed to the public.

It’s the first House seat of the cycle that Roll Call Politics has rated as likely to flip to the other party, making it that much more difficult for Democrats to win back the majority in 2012.

3rd District

Incumbent: Marlin Stutzman (R)

1st term (63 percent)

Rating: Safe Republican

Republicans will almost certainly hold on to this seat, despite the loss of GOP-heavy Elkhart County to the 2nd district.

What might be more precarious for Stutzman, a freshman, is a primary challenge after the changes to his current district. The redrawn 3rd district includes more territory south of Fort Wayne, which is relatively unfamiliar territory for the new Congressman.

Furthermore, this cycle will also be the first time Stutzman has to win a primary for his seat. After Rep. Mark Souder (R) resigned in May 2010 following a personal scandal, local Republicans picked Stutzman to be their nominee via party caucuses — which means he might not have the same high name identification as if he had run in a traditional primary.

4th District

Incumbent: Todd Rokita (R)

1st term (69 percent)

Rating: Safe Republican

Rokita should be able to easily hold on to this seat, but he’ll have to deal with the hassle of living just 500 yards outside of his district. State lawmakers drew his home just inside Rep. André Carson’s (D) district — a scenario Rokita chalked up to local lawmakers getting back at him for pushing redistricting reform when he was secretary of state. Regardless, Rokita has indicated he will run for re-election in the 4th district.

This district picked up about half of Democratic-heavy Kokomo, but that won’t change much about its solidly GOP composition. Barring any major unforeseen circumstances, Republicans will retain this seat.

5th District

Incumbent: Dan Burton (R)

15th term (62 percent)

Rating: Safe Republican

Burton’s central Indiana district has the potential to host at least one interesting matchup in 2012.

After the maps were released, Democrats immediately pointed to new areas in the 5th district that could make it more competitive. The new district includes some Democratic-heavy areas in northern Marion County, including some of the Indianapolis suburbs and exurbs. It also includes parts of Madison County, which once housed the largest concentration of General Motors employees in the country outside of Detroit. Madison County’s union-heavy town of Anderson still tends to vote for Democrats even though the plant closed about a decade ago. Finally, the new district also includes parts of the Democratic-heavy towns of Kokomo and East Kokomo.

Despite these changes, the 5th district will still be a slam dunk for Republicans unless Democrats find a stellar candidate who really capitalizes on these new areas and 2012 turns out to be a banner year for the party in the Hoosier State.

The more contentious race for Burton will be the GOP primary. Burton won with less than 30 percent of the vote over six challengers in the 2010 GOP primary. All but one of those challengers were moved out of the district when the lines were redrawn. Republican John McGoff, who has challenged Burton the past two cycles, has already announced he’ll try again to unseat him in 2012.

6th District

Open seat: Mike Pence (R) is running for governor

Rating: Safe Republican

This will be an open seat in 2012 because Pence will run statewide, but it’s still unlikely to be competitive. Though the district’s geography has changed, it’s still heavily Republican. The district will now stretch south to the Ohio River on Indiana’s southern border.

One local GOP operative jokingly called this “the leftovers” district because it includes areas shed by the 5th and 9th districts. There might be some truth to that, given it’s also the district where many of last cycle’s primary losers have opted to run.

Both former Indiana Republican Party Executive Director Luke Messer, who unsuccessfully challenged Burton in the 2010 GOP primary, and real estate investor Travis Hankins, who ran in the GOP primary for the 9th district in 2010, live in the new 6th district and have announced campaigns for Pence’s seat. Financial adviser Don Bates, who unsuccessfully ran for Republican nomination for Senate in 2010, has also jumped in the race.

Democrats are already talking up one potential candidate in the 6th district, businessman Brad Bookout, whose family owns a homebuilding company that carries the same name in Muncie. But it’s going to be a tough challenge for any Democrat to win this district.

7th District

Incumbent: André Carson (D)

2nd term (59 percent)

Rating: Safe Democratic

Under the new Congressional map, this Indianapolis-based district now includes fewer Democrats, but it’s still a pretty safe seat for Carson.

The 7th district lost some of the Democratic territory in the northern parts of Marion County to the 5th district, meanwhile acquiring some of the more GOP-friendly territory in the southern part of Marion County.

These changes will not make a huge difference for Carson, although he can no longer boast he has the safest Democratic seat in the state. Barring any major shakeups, Democrats will hold this seat in 2012 and in the cycles to come.

8th District

Incumbent: Larry Bucshon (R)

1st term (58 percent)

Rating: Leans Republican

After the new map was released, many politically inclined Hoosiers were left scratching their heads over the changes to the 8th district. Republican mapmakers in the state Legislature made the district, which had been a competitive seat in recent cycles, slightly more Democratic. This is a district that has had so many competitive Congressional races over the past decade that it earned the nickname “the bloody 8th.”

Despite the district’s nickname, Bucshon won his first term in Congress by 20 points last November when then-Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D) was running for Senate and it was an open-seat race.

Bucshon might not have it so easy this time. The new map moved three solidly GOP counties out of the northeastern section of the district: Putnam, Warren and Fountain. Meanwhile, some of the more competitive counties in the southern part of the state were moved into the 8th district: Dubois, Perry, Spencer and part of Crawford. President Barack Obama carried both Perry and Spencer counties in 2008, although Republicans in the state insist those counties have been trending their way.

While the redistricting changes do not drastically alter the chances of a Democrat taking the seat in 2012, they were substantial enough that some questioned whether Bucshon, a political novice until he ran for the House last year, had tried to lobby state mapmakers for his new territory.

In any case, it’s because of these changes that Democrats believe the 8th represents their best pickup opportunity in Indiana. Oddly enough, the new changes include the addition of Ellsworth’s birthplace of Dubois County, which would make it the perfect district for the former Congressman to try to mount a comeback. But Ellsworth has not expressed any interest, privately or publicly, in running for his old seat. He took only 40 percent of the vote in his Senate battle against now-Sen. Dan Coats (R).

Two Democrats have announced bids for the 8th district seat so far: former state Rep. Dave Crooks and attorney Terry White.

9th District

Incumbent: Todd Young (R)

1st term (52 percent)

Rating: Likely Republican

The 9th district has more often than not featured a competitive race in recent cycles — usually between former Reps. Baron Hill (D) and Mike Sodrel (R), who faced off against each other three times in the past decade.

Indiana Republicans smartly have tried to rectify that in the new Congressional map by adding to the district Morgan and Johnson counties, both of which have traditionally voted GOP. In return, Young gave up some of the competitive counties along the state’s southeastern border to the 6th district. Young also conveniently lost the home territory of the candidate who came within 2 points of defeating him in the 2010 primary, Travis Hankins. Hankins is now running for Congress in the 6th district instead.

Not only did this district become less competitive because of the county switches, the geographic changes also made it more difficult for potential challengers. In recent cycles, anyone running a competitive race in the 9th district used to have to buy television spots in Louisville, but now the district’s primary media market is the pricier Indianapolis. Any candidate, Democrat or Republican, who runs against Young will have to spend more money to be competitive here than they would have under the old Congressional boundaries. This is also an extra incentive for Democrats to avoid a primary here at all costs because the general election will be more expensive than in previous cycles.

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