Indiana Republicans face blessing and curse in jockeying for 2024 Senate seat

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(WASHINGTON) — A game of political musical chairs is unfolding in Indiana ahead of the 2024 campaign cycle as some of the state’s most high-profile Republicans begin to lay the groundwork for new prospects amid a competitive national Senate landscape.

The looming shuffle kicked off after Sen. Mike Braun announced in December that he plans to run for governor rather than pursue a second term in office.

Since then, Rep. Jim Banks officially threw his hat into the ring to succeed Braun and at least two other Hoosier Republicans — Rep. Victoria Spartz and former Gov. Mitch Daniels — have emerged as potential contenders. Spartz confirmed the possibility in December and while Daniels has not publicly acknowledged the possibility of a Senate run, he hasn’t ruled it out either, sources told ABC News.

State Republican operatives said that although primaries featuring multiple federal-level lawmakers on the same ticket is not a new phenomenon, it does give Indiana a unique political brand that favors candidates’ abilities to articulate and execute conservative policies.

“The Republican Party in Indiana is both blessed and cursed,” said Pete Seat, who served as an executive director for the Indiana Republican Party before pursuing a bid for state treasurer in 2022.

“It’s blessed in that it has an exceptionally deep bench of talent — just look at the fact that 90% of county-wide offices are held by Republicans. We have supermajorities in the state House and the state Senate. We’ve got a lot of people who could aspire to running for federal office. But that’s also the curse: There’s only so many options [available],” Seat told ABC News in an interview.

The 2024 Senate race will come the same year as the presidential election, which all but ensures high voter interest and media coverage. Republicans are also looking to take back the chamber, and holding Braun’s seat makes it all the easier to focus on the 23 Senate seats held by Democrats or independents, multiple of them in red or swing states.

Armed with a broad spectrum of Republican talent, Hoosier conservatives are now closely watching whether Daniels decides to get back into politics. He served eight years as the state’s top executive but left office in 2013 due to term limits.

Since then, Daniels has been working as the president of Purdue University while offering opinions on the national environment as a contributing columnist for The Washington Post. Daniels stepped down from his post at Purdue at the end of last year, and in November he penned a column on Election Day that warned about how “transparent nonsense can be shielded by tribalism or the groupthink of ‘elite’ opinion” while applying that idea to fiscal policy.

“If a notion is convenient enough in justifying a preferred outcome, it can survive despite mountains of evidentiary, or just common sense, refutation. Think of imaginary stolen elections or defunding police in an era of exploding crime,” Daniels wrote at the time.

The combination of policy topics cited by Daniels — anti-election denialism, pro-police — could lay the groundwork for the kind of platform the former governor would likely express on the campaign trail.

“If there was a Mount Rushmore of Indiana politicians, Mitch Daniels would be on it,” former Rep. Luke Messer told ABC News, while also noting that Daniels’ stature within the party does not preclude other Republicans from running successful campaigns.

The mounting speculation surrounding the upcoming Republican primary lineup is already opening the door for political attacks. In an online video earlier this month, the conservative anti-tax group Club for Growth threw its support behind Banks while labeling Daniels as “an old guard Republican clinging to the old ways of the bad old days.”

Nearly a week into his Senate candidacy, Banks boasts another high-profile ally: former President Donald Trump.

In an interview with The Daily Mail, a British tabloid, Banks welcomed Trump to join him on the campaign trail, and the former president — who announced his third presidential bid in November — appeared to lean into the idea on conservative social media.

Meanwhile, Spartz made waves earlier this month by changing her vote amid the contentious House election for the speakership. She opted to vote “present” on the fourth ballot before ultimately voting in favor of now-Speaker Kevin McCarthy on the 12th ballot. At the time, the congresswoman attributed her decision to shift the dynamics of the fourth ballot to her belief that Republicans needed to negotiate further until one candidate had enough support to secure the gavel.

In a December campaign email, Spartz expressed uncertainty about her future plans in politics but confirmed being “asked to consider” a Senate run. The congresswoman did not specify who requested her consideration for the role.

“I love our Republic dearly and understand how important these times are for our nation, but I need to decide if I am ready to commit at least 8 more years to Washington D.C. As some of you might know, I am not a huge fan of it,” Spartz wrote in the email, adding that she would make a decision about “how and where I can bring the most value and will let you know for sure in January-February of next year.”

Despite the current rough contours of the race, state Republicans go into 2024 with a heavy advantage to win the Senate seat, thereby ensuring the national spotlight — as well as the bulk of political spending — will stay focused on them into next year’s primary election.

In November, incumbent Sen. Todd Young was reelected in a landslide victory that nearly reached 60% of the vote.

Democrats appear to also be on shaky ground in the state’s 3rd Congressional District, which will be open due to Banks’ Senate candidacy. The district covers the northeastern corner of Indiana and has a partisan lean of 34 points, according to FiveThirtyEight. Banks won reelection with 65% of the vote in the fall.
Spartz represents the 5th Congressional District, where she also won by double digits, topping 60% of the vote.

The area covers parts of the northern Indianapolis ring counties where Republicans boast a partisan lean of 22 points over Democrats.

“Look at Indiana in 2022 — we actually did have a red wave, other states didn’t,” Seat, formerly with the state GOP, told ABC News. “We were talking about how it was going to be a wash across the shores, from sea to shining sea. Well, it happened here in the middle of America, and it didn’t happen in other places.”

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