5 primaries to watch in Indiana

5 primaries to watch in Indiana

There are two major parties in the U.S., but sometimes it feels like there are more. Within each party are factions that often have competing goals and tactics — and as has been evident in the House of Representatives this congress, the size of these factions matters almost as much as the actual partisan breakdown.

Yet because so many states and congressional districts are safe for one party, the relative strength of these factions is decided not in November, but on primary days throughout the spring and summer. Tuesday's primaries in Indiana are a great example. There are multiple House primary races where more than one Republican is vying to become the nominee in a safely red district, all but guaranteeing the primary winner a seat in Congress. In those races, Republican voters will decide whether to elect nominees who will be faithful party-line voters … or who will give Speaker Mike Johnson new headaches. They'll also choose who will likely become the next chief executive of this state of nearly 7 million people. Here are all the key races to watch on Tuesday:


Races to watch: 3rd, 5th, 6th and 8th congressional districts; governor

Polls close: 6 p.m. Eastern in most of the state, 7 p.m. Eastern in the northwest and southwest corners

Indiana's primary for governor is the most interesting statewide contest on Tuesday. And the action is all on the GOP side of the aisle because the solidly red state will likely elect another Republican to succeed term-limited GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb. The leading candidate looks to be Sen. Mike Braun, who won a Senate seat in 2018 but decided to run for governor instead of reelection this cycle. Yet Braun has three notable challengers for the Republican nomination: former state Commerce Secretary Brad Chambers, current Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and businessman Eric Doden. A fourth, former state Attorney General Curtis Hill, has notoriety but for all the wrong reasons: He lost renomination for his old office in 2020 after allegations came out that he had groped a group of women at a party.

PHOTO: Sen. Mike Braun speaks during a Republican Indiana gubernatorial candidate forum in Carmel, Ind., Jan. 25, 2024. (Michael Conroy/AP)
PHOTO: Sen. Mike Braun speaks during a Republican Indiana gubernatorial candidate forum in Carmel, Ind., Jan. 25, 2024. (Michael Conroy/AP)

For Braun, the good news is that none of his opponents have broken out from the rest of the pack. In early April, a SurveyUSA/Howey Politics/Indiana State Affairs poll found Braun at 44 percent among likely primary voters, with Crouch, Chambers and Doden all at around 10 percent, similar to the findings in older polls of the race. However, Braun's opponents have certainly put together the resources to push for a breakthrough. Overall, Braun had raised $10.2 million as of March 31, but Chambers had raised more ($12.8 million) and Doden about the same ($10 million) — thanks partly to millions from Chambers's own pocket and Doden's family. Crouch hasn't raised as much (around $7 million post-2020), but she did enter the last weeks of the campaign with $3.1 million in the bank, more than Braun, Chambers or Doden. The field has spent their resources mainly to bring Braun down a peg and promote their candidacies, in particular seizing upon comments Braun made in 2020 following the police murder of George Floyd in which the senator appeared supportive of Black Lives Matter, a conservative apostasy.

Turning to the congressional primaries, just one involving an incumbent is competitive and that's the Republican race in Indiana's solidly red 5th District north of Indianapolis. Two-term Rep. Victoria Spartz decided to seek reelection here, but only after a Hamlet rendition that has left her vulnerable to defeat in her primary as she vacillated between "to run or not to run." For a while, Spartz looked like a potential candidate to replace Braun in the Senate. But in February 2023, Spartz surprised the political world by announcing that not only would she not run for Senate, she also wouldn't seek reelection. She then repeatedly flip-flopped (saying she might run, then saying she wouldn't, then saying she maybe would) before finally announcing in February, just days before the candidate filing deadline, that she would indeed seek reelection.

Spartz's decision upset the plans of the many GOP contenders who'd entered the race in the meantime — 11 candidates (including Spartz) are on the primary ballot. However, one of those challengers looks like a real threat to Spartz's chances: state Rep. Chuck Goodrich. The CEO of an electrical contracting company and member of the Indiana legislature, Goodrich has self-funded heavily — $4.6 million of the $5.5 million he'd raised as of April 17 — to give himself a significant financial advantage over Spartz, who had only raised $581,000 after barely fundraising throughout 2023. Even with the money she already had in the bank, Spartz has been outspent $4.1 million to $2 million by Goodrich. Plus, outside spending has favored Goodrich as well, according to data from Open Secrets, with groups having spent $394,000 supporting him or opposing Spartz, compared with $234,000 supporting Spartz or opposing Goodrich.

Goodrich has used his financial edge to run ads emphasizing his America First views and to attack Spartz, most notably by trying to cast her as overly supportive of Ukraine in its war against Russia. Spartz is Ukrainian American, and Goodrich has claimed she's been "putting Ukraine first" while using an image of Spartz in the Oval Office with President Joe Biden after the passage of Ukraine military aid in 2022. However, Spartz's record is more nuanced: She has been critical of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and opposed the most recent round of Ukraine aid that Congress passed in late April. Yet Goodrich's attacks may be working: A late March poll for his campaign by pollster Mark It Red found him almost running even with her, trailing just 33 percent to 30 percent. Just after Spartz announced her reelection bid in early February, the same pollster had found Spartz ahead 47 percent to 15 percent, while a slightly earlier poll conducted by co/efficient for Spartz found the incumbent up 44 percent to 8 percent over Goodrich. If the trend in these campaign-sponsored polls is relatively accurate, Goodrich might just defeat Spartz on Tuesday.

A third of Indiana's congressional delegation is not running for reelection, leaving three safely Republican open seats — so the GOP primaries there will effectively decide those next members of Congress. In the 6th District, Rep. Greg Pence — who, like his brother Mike, is conservative but not angry about it — is stepping aside, and it's very much an open question whether he'll be replaced by a moderate or a hardliner.

Former Indianapolis City-County Councilor Jefferson Shreve, the owner of a successful storage company, leads the money race thanks to a $4.5 million loan to his own campaign — more than his six opponents have raised combined. But wealthy state Rep. Mike Speedy has also loaned himself $1.3 million, and he's using it to remind voters of the moderate positions, like supporting gun control, that Shreve took last year during his failed bid for mayor of Indianapolis (a significantly bluer constituency than the 6th District). To underscore the ideological fault lines of the primary: Shreve has the endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, while Speedy is backed by the tea party group Americans for Prosperity and Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America.

No other active candidate in the race has raised more than $200,000 except businessman Jamison Carrier, who raised the most from actual donors ($115,000) in addition to a $750,000 self-loan. There's a chance that Carrier sneaks up the middle between the two front-runners, as he's the only one of the three from a part of the district that's not Indianapolis, which accounted for just 23 percent of former President Donald Trump's vote in the district in 2020, according to Daily Kos Elections. There's no polling here, though, so it's hard to know whether Carrier's geographic advantage will erase Shreve's and Speedy's financial edge.

The primary for northeastern Indiana's 3rd District also features an establishment-insurgent battle. Former Rep. Marlin Stutzman was a member of the House Freedom Caucus and helped to oust former Speaker John Boehner during his first stint in the House. Now he's angling for a comeback, as Rep. Jim Banks is running for Senate (Banks is unopposed in that primary). However, former Allen Circuit Court Judge Wendy Davis* has outraised Stutzman $1.0 million to $796,000, and she has also benefited from $1.1 million in outside spending from Winning for Women (a group dedicated to electing more female Republicans). Pro-establishment super PAC America Leads Action has also spent $1.8 million against Stutzman. Tea party groups like the Club for Growth and Protect Freedom PAC haven't kept pace, spending a combined $1.2 million for Stutzman or against his opponents.

PHOTO: Former Rep. Marlin Stutzman speaks in his office in the Longworth House Office Building, July 28, 2014.  (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll via Getty Images)
PHOTO: Former Rep. Marlin Stutzman speaks in his office in the Longworth House Office Building, July 28, 2014. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll via Getty Images)

Yet the biggest fundraiser in the race is actually a third candidate, businessman Tim Smith (who self-funded $1.1 million), but observers believe his chances have been damaged by a scandal he's been tied to. A fourth notable, state Sen. Andy Zay, is also running and has raised $693,000, but at the end of the day, chances are either Stutzman or Davis will be this district's next congressman.

Finally, another ex-congressman may make a comeback in southwestern Indiana's 8th District — once one of the most competitive seats in the country but now a reliably Republican seat. The two front-runners in the GOP primary here appear to be state Sen. Mark Messmer and former Rep. John Hostettler, and some of the same groups are getting involved: America Leads Action has spent $1.6 million to help Messmer and hurt Hostettler, and Protect Freedom PAC is airing ads for Hostettler.

But the main divide in this race seems to be less about governing philosophy and more about foreign policy. For instance, Protect Freedom PAC — which represents former Rep. Ron Paul's libertarian wing of the party — may be with Hostettler because he and Paul were two of only six Republicans who opposed the Iraq war back in 2002. And Hostettler's record on Israel has provoked strong opposition from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Republican Jewish Coalition. Citing anti-Israel votes Hostettler took in Congress as well as a book he wrote that blamed the Iraq war on Jewish Americans' efforts to help Israel, these two groups have dropped $2.2 million to attack Hostettler or boost Messmer.

In total, pro-Messmer, anti-Hostettler outside groups have outspent pro-Hostettler, anti-Messmer groups by a whopping $5.1 million to $793,000. (And it's not like Hostettler himself has been able to fight back; Messmer has outraised him $763,000 to $41,000.)

Don't write off two other candidates, either. Surgeon Richard Moss, who has pledged to join the Freedom Caucus, has raised $556,000, while 28-year-old Army reservist Dominick Kavanaugh took in $528,000. That said, given the financial disparity, any candidate other than Messmer has to be considered an underdog.


*Not to be confused with the former Democratic candidate for governor of Texas!

5 primaries to watch in Indiana originally appeared on abcnews.go.com