By Victor Reklaitis
CROWN POINT, Ind. (MarketWatch) — Standing in a picturesque courthouse square in Crown Point, Ind., Faye Kelley says she thinks locals are “very discouraged” because of high inflation.
She’s also not happy with Democratic-run Washington’s spending programs that she describes as “giving money to people to stay at home and not go to work.”
“They’re making people lazy,” says Kelley, a Crown Point retiree who worked at a manufacturing company in nearby Whiting, voicing a criticism that’s often leveled by conservatives at initiatives such as the extra unemployment benefits paid out through September 2021 .
For these types of reasons, she says both she and her husband, who is retired from the local steel industry, plan to vote for the Republican candidate in the race to represent Indiana’s First Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, not incumbent Democratic Rep. Frank Mrvan.
There’s a real chance that a majority of the district’s voters could join the couple in backing GOP challenger Jennifer-Ruth Green. That would be a huge political change for northwest Indiana, which historically has been a Democratic stronghold, like neighboring Chicago. While Indiana is a generally red state, a Republican last won this House seat in the 1928 election, when Calvin Coolidge was president.
“It would be a big deal, if she manages to flip that to red,” said one expert on Indiana politics, Andy Downs, former director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Purdue University Fort Wayne.
“Within the broader context, that would probably be an indicator that the Republicans had a really good night,” Downs added, referring to the GOP’s overall effort to flip one or both congressional chambers in November’s midterm elections.
Downs said he thinks the northwest Indiana district — known for industrial sites such as U.S. Steel’s /zigman2/quotes/200069642/composite X -2.27% Gary plant — is still likely to go to the Democrats, saying, “It is Mrvan’s race to lose,” but he emphasized that Green looks set to have significant financial support for her campaign, including from outside the state.
Analysts at both the Cook Political Report and the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics last month switched their ratings for the contest to “toss-up” from leaning Democratic, citing factors such as Green’s fundraising advantage in the most recent quarterly reporting period. She raked in about $566,000 in the year’s second quarter , while Mrvan, a freshman congressman, brought in about $357,000 in the quarter .
The GOP is widely expected to win enough races in the midterms to take control of the House, as inflation serves as a talking point for the party to use against President Joe Biden and his fellow Democrats. That would fit the historical pattern in which a first-term president’s party tends to lose congressional ground in the midterms. Republican control of the U.S. Senate looks much less likely, with betting markets currently seeing Democrats keeping their edge in that chamber of Congress.
As Democrats in northwest Indiana work to keep Mrvan’s House seat from becoming one that flips, some party activists say they’re expecting a lift from the public response to the Supreme Court decision in June that overturned Roe v. Wade . After that ruling, Indiana’s Republican-run government in early August approved an abortion ban that included limited exceptions.
Laura Madigan, a Democrat who serves as a council member in the town of Porter, said she’s seeing locals who are “furious” over the new abortion restrictions, and they sound energized when she knocks on their doors while she’s canvassing.
“They’re answering the door and fired up and talking about showing up to vote,” said Madigan, who is also a founding member of a local group called the Duneland Democratic Committee, as well as a massage therapist and mom with school-age kids. “They know the only thing they have left is their vote, and I think that they’re going to show up in bigger numbers than previously. I really do.”
Madigan said she’s backing Mrvan because of his support for abortion rights and northwest Indiana’s labor unions, along with his respect for “the democratic process,” while many Republicans, led by former President Donald Trump, have coalesced around unsubstantiated claims about 2020’s elections being stolen.
“I really do feel like democracy itself is on the ballot this midterm,” Madigan said.
Other Democrats in the district voiced similar views.
“Over the last couple of years, I have come to see Donald Trump as the worst thing that’s ever happened to this country since 9/11,” said Jim Sweeney, a Schererville retiree who worked for an oil pipeline company. Sweeney said he thinks Green’s positions appear “largely, without referring to Trump, directly related to Trump policies, so I’ll be working as hard against her as I can.”