As Rep. Mike Pence moves away from running for re-election in the House and toward a gubernatorial bid, Hoosier State Republicans are lining up not only for his 6th district seat, but they also are looking at surrounding districts and the Senate race.
In Pence’s Muncie-based district, Republicans began preparing for an open-seat race as early as last summer.
Matt Strittmatter, a Pence supporter who was term-limited out of his job as Wayne County sheriff at the end of 2010, opened a federal campaign account and started taking donations in June. Now working as a consultant for a company that provides health care for prisoners, Strittmatter had $39,000 on hand at the end of 2010. Ron Arnold Consulting, an Indiana-based firm run by a former Pence campaign manager, is working on his bid.
“We’re doing a combination of everything,” Strittmatter told Roll Call after Pence announced he would not run for president last week.
“We’re meeting with people one-on-one, we’re reaching out by telephone and we’re also meeting with small groups and introducing me to them,” Strittmatter said, adding he’d make a formal announcement about his campaign after Pence makes his final decision.
Though Strittmatter is the only candidate who is talking openly about his bid, others are thinking seriously about it. Former Rep. David McIntosh, now a registered lobbyist at Mayer Brown in Washington, D.C., has been mentioned for the race. He represented a previous version of the district from 1994 to 2000, when he lost a run for governor.
McIntosh lives in Virginia with his family, but he still rents a home in Indiana and goes back to help candidates when they ask. He said he has offered to help Pence with a gubernatorial bid but hasn’t thought much about running for office himself.
“I really do think we’ve gotta honor what Mike’s thinking about, give him the time to think through his options and make a clear decision before,” McIntosh told Roll Call. He said running for the House in Indiana would mean big changes for his family, since his children are in school in Virginia.
Nate LaMar, president of the Henry County Council, is making moves toward a bid, introducing himself to local activists. Other Republicans who have run for office in Indiana recently may look at the House seat. On that list are Don Bates Jr., who lost to now-Sen. Dan Coats in the 2010 Senate primary, and former state Rep. Luke Messer, who lost to nearby Rep. Dan Burton in the 2010 House primary.
Yet each of those candidates has to consider what will happen to the current 6th district — and surrounding districts — through redistricting. Messer seems more likely to run again in the 5th district. Speculation has been rampant that Burton, who is 72 and has faced tough primary challenges in the past two election cycles, might decide to retire, but his office told Roll Call on Tuesday that he plans to run for re-election. Indiana Republicans believe that Burton’s brother, state Rep. Woody Burton, will try to shape the district in his favor.
Republican state legislators will have a lot of factors to consider when they draw the Congressional lines.
Ed Feigenbaum, editor of the nonpartisan newsletter Indiana Legislative Insight, said their top priority will probably be to further marginalize conservative Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly, who eked out a win in his competitive northern Indiana district in 2010. The new lines could make Donnelly’s district more Republican leaning, which would give him more incentive to run statewide.
For Donnelly, that more than likely would mean a gubernatorial bid. And if he won the Democratic primary, he could potentially find himself in a general election race against Pence. Democrats also are looking for a candidate to challenge Sen. Dick Lugar (R).
The next step, Feigenbaum said, would be to protect new Republican Members such as Rep. Todd Young, an attorney who defeated Democratic Rep. Baron Hill in 2010. Indiana Republicans flipped two seats that Democrats had held in November.
Young might pick up some of the Republican-leaning areas Pence represents now. His current district is directly south of Pence’s.
Because of that shift, Democrats believe Pence’s district may be more friendly to a Democrat after redistricting. The district chose Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for president with just 52 percent of the vote in 2008 and was represented by a Democrat before McIntosh was elected in 1994. Democratic state Sen. Tim Lanane, who represents Madison County, said people have asked him to look at the race.
“It would be something I would take a careful look at and then make hopefully a fairly quick decision on,” he told Roll Call.
Lanane was first appointed to the state Senate in 1997 and now serves as the top Democrat on the Senate’s Elections Committee, which oversees redistricting. He said he hopes the Republican majority will make good on its promise to allow Democrats to give “meaningful input” into the redistricting process.
The state Legislature must finish Congressional redistricting by April 29 or it will go to an independent commission, and Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) must make his decision on the new maps in May. Until then, all bets are off in Indiana’s delegation.
It is unclear how heavily national Democrats will contest the Hoosier State in 2012. Indiana narrowly backed President Barack Obama in 2008 after decades of choosing the Republican presidential nominee. But the 2010 elections suggest the state is trending Republican.
Evan Bayh’s decision to retire from the Senate last year was bad news for Democrats, and Lugar’s seat is likely safe for the GOP.