Congressman Jim Banks has served the Third District since 2017, and is now the prohibitive favorite on the Republican side for U.S. Senate. (Courtesy of Banks’ office)
Indiana appears poised for the unfathomable: an unopposed Republican primary for an open U.S. Senate seat.
With current Sen. Mike Braun deciding to run for governor in 2024, a competitive Senate primary was expected to include a host of big-name Hoosier politicos.
Instead, Third District Congressman Jim Banks appears to have cleared the field in only a few weeks — reeling in key endorsements including former President Donald Trump and getting crucial donors on board.
The (possible) last domino fell on Tuesday when former Gov. Mitch Daniels announced he would not run. Moments later, the powerful National Republican Senatorial Committee – and its formidable coffers – backed Banks.
And moderate Republicans around the state — call them Lugar or Daniels Republicans — sighed in frustration.
You can’t run to the right of Banks. So, the only hope is a candidate more in the middle of the party. But that doesn’t seem to be in the cards.
To put this in perspective, since 1976 — when direct primaries were implemented — there has never been an uncontested GOP primary for an open Senate seat. In 1998, Paul Helmke defeated John Price; in 2010 Dan Coats bested four GOP opponents; and in 2016 Todd Young beat then-Congressman Marlin Stutzman.
Sometimes incumbents are even challenged in the primaries.
One keen political observer said lightning could still strike, but no one else is coming to the forefront at this point.
A Bellwether Research poll conducted in December had Banks trailing Attorney General Todd Rokita, 16% to 14%.
But Rokita lately has seemed content with his statewide office, with fewer rumors swirling about a possible run. Congresswoman Victoria Spartz polled at 12% in that survey but is now reevaluating. Former Congressman Trey Hollingsworth was also at 11% in that poll. He left Congress and was considering a run for governor but appears to have missed that moment.
Would he like the Senate better? He is a conservative, but not as loud about it as Banks.
The open governor’s seat — Gov. Eric Holcomb is term-limited — is attracting more attention than the Senate. For instance, businessman and Secretary of Commerce Brad Chambers could occupy a lane that Banks doesn’t in a Senate race but has shown interest only in a governor’s bid.
Holcomb is an interesting possibility. He has been mum on his future. On one hand, we know he had in an interest in the Senate because he was originally running for it in 2016 before dropping out and becoming Lt. Governor shortly after. But his COVID-19 measures and veto of the transgender sports bill have cost him Republican support.
Another longtime politico said that for a moderate to enter the GOP Senate primary race, they would have to have a built-in pedigree similar to Daniels. Otherwise, they will get destroyed in this new Republican Party era.
“If you show one ounce of moderation, you are doomed,” the insider said.
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