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GOPers Eye Indiana Seat; Redistricting Looms

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Tom Williams/Roll Call
Rep. Mike Pence, who spoke Monday at the Americans for Prosperity rally, will set off a race for his seat if he seeks higher office in 2012.

As Indiana Rep. Mike Pence considers running for governor or even president in 2012, Hoosiers are lining up for a shot at his seat in the House, even before the state government decides the boundaries of the district.

In January, the Republican lawmaker briefly considered a bid against Sen. Evan Bayh (D), but Pence ultimately declined to run, even after Bayh decided to retire. After Republicans won back control of the House, Pence announced he would not seek re-election as Republican Conference chairman in the next Congress but would make a decision about his political future early next year. Because of term limits, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) can’t run for re-election in 2012, and he is also eyeing a White House bid.

With the race for governor and Sen. Dick Lugar (R) up for re-election in 2012, Indiana politicians will have their choice of offices to run for. Much of who will run in each race depends on which candidates file for statewide races, what other officeholders decide to do and how the Congressional district lines are redrawn.

Former Rep. David McIntosh, Wayne County Sheriff Matt Strittmatter, financial adviser Don Bates Jr. and former state Rep. Luke Messer have all been mentioned as potential Republican candidates in Pence’s conservative 6th district, located in east-central Indiana and centered on Muncie.

The fact that Pence probably won’t run for re-election may affect the way the lines are drawn, said Jerry Alexander, an Indiana-based political consultant who has worked as Pence’s political director.

“If you’re a state legislator and you know that there’s a guy that’s probably not going to run ... and you’re redrawing lines, you really don’t care a whole lot about offending that Member,” Alexander said.

Redistricting in Indiana has been such a partisan affair in the past that Secretary of State Todd Rokita — an incoming Member of Congress — launched a campaign this year called Rethinking Redistricting, urging state legislators to adopt a plan that would limit Congressional district lines from chopping up counties and state legislative districts.

Since that bill hasn’t been signed into law, however, the process would go through both legislative bodies the way a bill normally would after the census data is released in early February. Unlike 2001, when Democrats controlled both chambers, Republicans will control both chambers in 2011. If legislators can’t agree on maps by late March, a five-member commission consisting of the Speaker, the president of the Senate, the chairmen of the redistricting committees in both chambers and a gubernatorial appointee can put together an interim redistricting plan, according to Rokita’s Rethinking Redistricting website.

Of the candidates looking to run for Pence’s seat, Strittmatter is the one candidate who has already made his bid public. He formed a federal campaign account in anticipation of Pence vacating his seat over the summer and had raised nearly $30,000 by the end of September. A Pence supporter who is term-limited out of his job at the end of this year, Strittmatter said he first approached the Congressman about running to replace him in January.

“He has said nothing to discourage me from what I’m doing,” Strittmatter told Roll Call in an interview Monday.

Strittmatter said he would campaign on bringing a law enforcement officer’s problem-solving mentality to Congress, a strategy used by Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), who made his name as the sheriff who captured the Green River Killer in 2001.

“When a constituent comes to us with a problem, they’re looking for us to help to work toward a solution, and I think that’s one of the skills a sheriff can take to the House of Representatives,” Strittmatter said.

He said he would consider other factors, such as redistricting and other candidates getting into the race, as they become known. In the meantime, he is working with Ron Arnold & Associates Consulting — run by former Pence aide Ron Arnold — and is holding meetings to introduce himself to small groups of Republicans around the district.

McIntosh, 52, served as the Congressman in what was then the 2nd district from 1994 to 2000 and was chairman of the Republican Study Committee. He lost a bid for governor in 2000 and now works as a partner for Mayer Brown in Washington, D.C. Sen.-elect Dan Coats, who won a competitive GOP primary for the nomination and was handily elected this month to the open seat, was also a former Member-turned-lobbyist, and his success is a good sign for McIntosh.

Bates, who works in Richmond, finished fourth in this year’s Senate primary with 4 percent of the statewide vote. He said he would make any decisions about a 2012 run in late spring.

“I’m getting a lot of phone calls, and I fully intend to stay very actively engaged,” he said in an interview Monday. “The Senate primary was a great experience as I traveled the state and listened to Hoosiers’ concerns. I believe most of those concerns are very valid, and there’s a lot of work yet to be done.”

Bates said he has also talked with Pence about a potential run, but he added that if he ends up in GOP Rep.-elect Todd Young’s district, he wouldn’t run against him.

Where the lines are drawn is a consideration for Messer as well. Messer ran against Republican Rep. Dan Burton in the neighboring 5th district in 2010, finishing just behind the incumbent in a six-way primary. Many Republicans expect him to run there again, regardless of whether Burton decides to retire.

“I wouldn’t rule out running against Dan if he runs again,” Messer said in an interview Friday.

Messer worked for Burton and McIntosh on subcommittees in the House and lost to Pence in the 2000 Republican primary. From there he led the Indiana Republican Party and in 2003 was appointed to the state Legislature. He served as Indiana co-chairman for the 2008 presidential bid of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). These days he works as executive director of Hoosiers for Economic Growth. He said he will focus on education reform issues for the next four to six months.

By that time, Pence should have made an announcement about his intentions, new maps should be in their finishing stages and what may turn into a competitive primary will be well under way.

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