After spending $221,000 on the air in Indiana's 9th District over the past five weeks, Indiana Jobs Now, a super PAC backing Republican Trey Hollingsworth, has released an internal poll suggesting that the Tennessee transplant is gaining traction in the district.
The live caller poll of 600 likely Republican primary voters from National Research Inc. puts Hollingsworth's name recognition at 61 percent, closely trailing the 70 percent who recognize Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who's also running for the open seat. Three-term Rep. Todd Young is running for the GOP nomination for Senate. Conducted Feb. 21-23 with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent, the poll's ballot test put Hollingsworth at the top of the five candidates surveyed. Hollingsworth garnered 17 percent, followed by Zoeller with 16 percent and state Sen. Erin Houchin with 9 percent. Trailing the field were state Sen. Brent Walz with 4 percent and engineer Robert Hall with 3 percent.
Indiana Jobs Now, which has an Arlington, Va., P.O. box, registered with the FEC in the middle of January, just before debuting its first ad. Its spending has been evenly divided between between boosting Hollingsworth and attacking Zoeller.
The PAC's latest ad knocks Zoeller for appearing at a press conference with the authors of the "Gang of Eight" immigration legislation. "Clones," which first aired in late January, opens with a homogeneous army of suited men and women marching toward the Capitol. "We keep sending the same types to Washington," the narrator says. "Greg Zoeller? He's just another career politician." The narrator closes the ad by calling Hollingsworth "the only conservative outsider."
"Indiana Jobs Now is focused on supporting job creators who will change the way Washington works," said James McKay, of Norway Hill Associates, on behalf of Indiana Jobs Now.
"I think it’s clear that Trey and his campaign have a sense of where this race is and who they need to set as their target," said GOP consultant Pete Seat, who's working for Zoeller.
Hollingsworth got in the race in October. He has been registered to vote in Clark County since September, and currently lives in Jeffersonville. He owns Hollingsworth Capital Partners, an industrial real estate business based in Clinton, Tenn., started by his father. The company has properties in Indiana, and according to Hollingsworth's campaign website, he started an aluminum remanufacturing operation in Indiana that's created jobs in the area.
Indiana's 9th District GOP Chairman Jamey Noel made Hollingsworth sign off on a loyalty pledge — much like the pledge the Republican National Committee got Donald Trump to sign — promising not to run as a third-party candidate should he not win the nomination in the May 3 primary.
"Trey is a registered Republican and deeply committed to the party," said Jamestown's Barney Keller, a consultant for the Hollingsworth campaign. The reason Noel wanted to preclude Hollingsworth from running as an independent is that Hollingsworth has money — and lots of it. He loaned $595,000 to his campaign and donated another $91,000. He only raised $8,775.
Houchin has raised the most money of any candidate in the race, bringing in $111,000 in the final quarter of 2015 and ending the period with $176,600 in the bank. That's slightly more than Zoeller, who pulled in $101,000 and had $135,000 cash on hand. Waltz hauled in $102,000 in the 4th quarter and has $86,000 in his war chest.
"In a primary in Indiana, it’s not always necessarily the guy who raises and spends the most money who wins," said Noel, who's not backing any candidate.
"It’s really the perfect place to try something like that because there’s no media scrutiny," said one Indiana Republican consultant. "Lots of candidates running and none of them have a lot of money," he said of the 9th District GOP primary. "If you’re going to buy a race that’s one to buy."
Multiple calls and emails to Hollingsworth's campaign staff over the past month went unreturned. His campaign manager told the Indianapolis Star Tribune via email in February that Hollingsworth spending his own money on the race allows him to spend more time talking to voters.
Hollingsworth has been knocking on doors throughout the district, Keller said, and as seen in his latest ad, he's signing and delivering four-term-limit pledges to 9th District residents.
Contact Pathé at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter at @sfpathe . Related: Roll Call Race Ratings Map: Ratings for Every House and Senate Race in 2016 Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.