Warning signs for Trump in Indiana primary

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In 2016, Indiana played a crucial role in propelling Donald Trump toward the GOP nomination. However, eight years later, the state, dubbed “Importantville” by Trump, revealed warning signs as Nikki Haley gained strong support in suburban areas.

 

Warning signs for Trump in Indiana primary
Warning signs for Trump in Indiana primary

Due to its position late in the primary calendar, Indiana holds significant sway over candidacies, with Sen. Ted Cruz and then-Gov. John Kasich exiting the race after Trump’s victory in 2016. This barn-red state often sets the pace for Republicans nationwide.

In this year’s primary, which saw a record-breaking $98 million in spending across the state, according to AdImpact, a notable aspect was Nikki Haley’s sustained influence despite exiting the race months ago.

Beyond the presidential contest, Indiana’s open Republican primaries for Senate, governor, and congressional seats underscored the battleground status within the GOP, with Sen. Mike Braun and Rep. Victoria Spartz emerging as key figures in their respective races.

Here are three takeaways from Indiana regarding the future of the GOP and the upcoming general election.

 

Even without Trump’s backing, substantial national funding can still secure victory

Indiana witnessed competitive congressional races, particularly in the 6th and 8th districts, where Reps. Greg Pence and Larry Bucshon, having endorsed former Vice President Mike Pence over Trump, faced new contenders. Trump refrained from endorsing candidates in these races or two others, leaving room for national groups aligned with different GOP factions to engage.

The 3rd District race, triggered by Rep. Jim Banks’ Senate nomination, attracted substantial outside spending, including from America Leads Action, a super PAC opposing far-right candidates. Despite previous spending against candidates like Brandon Gill and Mark Harris, who secured their primaries, the group’s efforts to block Marlin Stutzman in Indiana’s 3rd District fell short.

Stutzman’s victory, supported by Club for Growth Action and other conservative groups, signifies a win for the party’s conservative wing in safe-seat primaries. However, America Leads Action did achieve success in the 8th District, where former Rep. John Hostettler lost to state Sen. Mark Messmer amidst opposition over past votes against Israel.

Trump’s sole major endorsement went to Rep. Jim Banks, effectively clearing the primary field as other ambitious Republicans pursued alternative paths rather than vying for an open Senate seat.

Incumbency still matters

Spartz’s political future remains uncertain despite surviving her recent primary challenge. She initially retired in 2023 but reversed course just before the filing deadline to enter the race. Securing only 39% of the vote, Spartz had the lowest performance among congressional incumbents this year, narrowly avoiding defeat with a significant financial investment in her campaign.

In contrast, other incumbents easily won their primaries. Despite Trump’s dominance in Indiana’s past elections, Nikki Haley notably performed well, particularly in Marion County and Hamilton County, where she garnered over 30-point margins. These areas, critical for Democrats in 2020, demonstrate a durable coalition supporting Haley beyond the GOP base.

Haley’s strong showing, even surpassing other prominent candidates in the gubernatorial race, reflects a shift in Indiana’s political landscape. Notably, figures like Senator Todd Young, who has distanced himself from Trump, and former Vice President Mike Pence, an Indiana voter, have remained neutral regarding their preferences in this election cycle.

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