By Amanda Creech
The race for Indiana’s open U.S. Senate seat could divide the GOP between its two most important constituencies – social conservatives and business-minded Republicans.
But experts and political observers say whoever wins will be a strong candidate to take on the likely Democratic nominee, Baron Hill.
“We have three outstanding candidates,” former Republican Chairman Mike McDaniel said. “These are high quality people that have experience with politics and government.”
U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd District, appeals more to the tea party wing of the party while Eric Holcomb, former head of the state GOP, and U.S. Rep. Todd Young, R-9th District, will be seeking support in the business community. The three are competing to fill U.S. Sen. Dan Coats’ position.
Andrew Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics, said it’s not clear any of the candidates has a major advantage over the other two.
Young “had a very good quarter, a very successful quarter raising money,” Downs said. “I think with Holcomb you have the person who is possibly able to secure a lot of the party leadership. So that’s a reason to say that he’s legitimate. And Marlin Stutzman may have access to the most vibrant volunteer base and that’s going to be something that’s necessary in order to win.”
Still, all are facing challenges.
“They have to reach out first of all because they don’t have the broad range name recognition that someone like Dan Coats had when he jumped in the race” five years ago, Downs said. “They all have to go out and make themselves better known than in the places where they’re known.”
Individually, the three candidates have their own strengths and weaknesses to bring to the table. Young and Stutzman will be able to use their records in the U.S House to their advantage.
“They can say to people when they’re introducing themselves: Here’s how I’ve behaved. Here’s how I have performed previously. You can expect me to do more of this. So if you like what I’ve done, you should make me a senator,” Downs explained.
Holcomb, however, has never served in public office.
“Eric Holcomb can’t do that, he can’t say this is how I voted on things,” Downs said. “What he can do is talk about his ability to work across levels of government since he’s a former state chair and he has connections with former Gov. (Mitch) Daniels and current Sen. Coats. He can talk about the ability to bring things together in a way the other two can’t because of his experience so I think that might be a way for him to do that.”
Although Holcomb doesn’t have the past experience, the strength he brings is a long list of endorsements from elected officials and party leaders.
“Eric Holcomb is doing an outstanding job of bringing in endorsements from Republican leaders all over the state of Indiana,” McDaniel said. “A lot of that comes from his experience in running campaigns for Mitch Daniels when he ran for governor. So Eric has contacts all over Indiana and that’s something unique to him.”
Ed Feigenbaum, publisher of IN Group, a network of newsletters about Indiana government, said it’s too early in the race to tell who has an overall advantage.
“We may still see Sen. Mike Delph enter the race and be a fourth candidate and if he gets in obviously that changes the dynamics,” Feigenbaum said. “If Sen. Delph gets in, then it’s basically a four-way race instead of a two-on-one or one-on-two kind of race.”
McDaniel said it might be too late for Delph to run.
“The longer he waits the more difficult it is to compete because he’s not out there generating the resources he needs to communicate with people,” McDaniel said.
But even if Delph decides not to run, McDaniel is confident in the three candidates’ abilities.
“We’re going to be well suited regardless of who wins this race going into the fall campaign,” he said. “It looks like Baron Hill is going to be the sole democrat on their side of the aisle so we have an excellent chance of retaining this U.S. Senate seat.”
Amanda Creech is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.