Rarely has Indiana been the national political ground zero that it has now become in the week before its May 3rd primary. It isn’t terribly unusual for Democratic presidential candidates to be dueling it out this late in the season; Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both heavily invested in Indiana in 2008. But on the Republican side the presidential primary is usually wrapped up by now. Not so this year, and a hotly contested U.S. Senate primary on the Republican side mixed in with some key U.S. House primaries – including northeast Indiana’s 3rd Congressional District – make for a busy time in the Hoosier state.
Jim Banks, a conservative state senator and Afghan War veteran, appears poised to seal the deal in IN-03 after months of hard work establishing a grassroots and fundraising base of support that is now kicking it into high gear. Banks earned the endorsement of national conservatives like Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) and Erick Erickson, and groups like the Club for Growth, House Freedom Fund PAC and the Madison Project are backing him.
Ranked as the most conservative member of the Indiana Senate, Banks is skillfully using his conservative voting record to his advantage in an anti-incumbent year. It helps that his job as a state senator is part time, and his work in the private sector and as a Navy Reserve officer help bolster his non-establishment credentials.
An early April poll reported on by Roll Call shows Banks leading the 5-way race, but agricultural businessmen Kip Tom, a newcomer to the political scene, is self-funding his campaign and pouring a lot of money into negative ads attacking Banks. Tom’s main beef with his opponent is that Banks is – allegedly – a career politician.
The charge could be a potent one if it wasn’t for a few factors. First, as mentioned, Banks works nearly full time in the private sector and serves in the Navy Reserve. The Indiana state legislature is part time meaning House and Senate members don’t work year round and have to have non-political jobs to make a living.
Second, Tom, a businessman, has repeatedly lied about his resume, claiming he had degrees that he really didn’t have. His misrepresentations extended beyond his own business websites to news media reports and even an official biography that appeared on one state university website. Tom has since scrubbed his own websites of the lie.
Third, Tom and his farms have collected $3.3 million in federal taxpayer subsidies. Of the five candidates in the race, none of have benefited from federal government largess like Tom, making his case as an outsider a tough one to argue.
Club for Growth is currently airing a TV ad in the district that hammers Tom for his “insider” connections.
FactCheck.org claims the ad is inaccurate, but actually admits in a lengthy write-up that every point made by Club for Growth is valid. So much for checking the facts.
While it is possible momentum could suddenly shift in these final days, Banks does appear to be on the right trajectory to win.
A side effect of the contests in IN-03 and IN-09 and the Senate primary is that voter turnout on the Republican side will likely be fairly strong across the state. Indiana’s primary requires voters to declare which party’s ballot they want to use, eliminating the problems that come with “open” primaries where Democrats and Republicans can vote in each other’s races. That’s good news for Ted Cruz, who needs to win Indiana ahead of a big fight in delegate-rich California.