The primary election is less than one month away, and several Congressional seats across the state are being contested.
Among them is Indiana’s 9th district, which Republican Trey Hollingsworth currently serves. He beat former Attorney General Greg Zoeller and two state senators in the 2016 Republican primary, before going on to defeat Democrat Shelli Yoder and winning the seat.
This time around, several Democrats are vying to win their party’s primary and run against the freshman Congressman in November. And, Hollingsworth even has a primary challenger from his own party.
But, all four opponents face several obstacles.
Opponents Hope To Capitalize On Dissatisfaction With Congress
The candidates for Indiana’s 9th Congressional District spoke to a packed room about their views on healthcare during a forum organized by Hoosiers For A Commonsense Health Plan earlier this week.
But, at least one chair remained empty. Organizers say Hollingsworth declined an invitation to participate in the event.
“We started inviting him in January,” says Dr. Rob Stone.
Hollingsworth is up for re-election this year. We reached out to his campaign for an interview, but the congressman wasn’t available. Hollingsworth’s four challengers all attended the healthcare forum.
It was James Dean Alspach’s first appearance. He is running against Hollingsworth in the Republican primary because he says the congressman hasn’t done a good job representing his constituents.
“People want their votes to count and they want the message to be loud and clear,” Alspach says. “You should not be able to buy a seat in the United States House of Representatives, and that’s exactly what Hollingsworth has done.”
Two of the Democrats hoping to run against Hollingsworth in November offered similar criticisms. Liz Watson says seeing the role money can play in politics helped motivate her to run.
“I’m running because I’m sick and tired of a Congress that’s bought and paid for,” Watson says. “It’s been sold off in pieces to big pharma, to big health insurance companies, to the Koch brothers and to Trey Hollingsworth’s dad.”
Robert Chatlos, who is also running as a Democrat, says he’s heard from many people in the district who are frustrated, and want change.
“I really, really want change,” Chatlos says. “And, that means that we have to change how we do things, and the people that are doing them, and the way that they are doing them. My campaign’s going to offer that to you.”
Democrat Dan Canon didn’t address Hollingsworth, and instead focused his comments during the event on healthcare.
“I want to talk about a true, single-payer program,” Canon says.
How Competitive Will The Race Be?
According to Federal Election Commission data, Canon and Watson have both raised more than $300,000 for their campaigns. Hollingsworth has raised about twice as much. Data isn’t available for Alspach or Chatlos.
While the primary could be competitive with several legitimate candidates vying to represent their parties, experts say the same can’t necessarily be said of the general election.
“What people have to remember is that it sort of looked this way in 2016,” says Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center For Indiana Politics at IPFW. “But, by the time it was done, the vote totals had a slightly different story.”
That 2016 race between Hollingsworth and Yoder was expected to be close. But, Hollingsworth won the election by 14 points.
And, Downs says he has an even bigger advantage this time around.
“I think it’s safe to say Hollingsworth has access to money in ways that a lot of people don’t, in terms of personal wealth,” Downs says. “But, he’s also an incumbent. And, as a rule, incumbents have an easier time raising money than challengers do.”
The district has flipped back and forth between Democrat and Republican over the years. It spans from Johnson, all the way down to Floyd County. But, its current boundaries may give Hollingsworth yet another advantage.
“I think some people are considering it to be a district that now leans Republican,” Downs says. “Doesn’t mean a Democrat can’t win it, just means the challenge to get that has gotten a lot better.”
All of Hollingsworth’s opponents are aware of that. They’re counting on voters who are dissatisfied with his performance in Congress to get to the polls.
And, as Hoosiers learned in 2016, nothing is guaranteed when it comes to Indiana politics.