ELKHART, IN - Republican Congressional leaders are finding themselves trying to walk an increasingly fine line in setting expectations for November. Depending on the day's headlines, GOP House leadership is alternately cautiously optimistic about expanding the Republican majority and simply maintaining control. Democrats have a "Drive to 25" program just in case they are able capitalize off possible GOP missteps that could surrender momentum; apart from hoping Republicans do something stupid, their own strategy however is not sophisticated enough to be a serious plan for victory.
But regardless of whether they expand or merely maintain their majority, Republicans have the strongest chance of turning a Democrat-held seat to a Republican-held seat in Indiana's 2nd District. Former state lawmaker Jackie Walorski is running as a Republican for the second time in this north-central Indiana district. She narrowly lost to incumbent Democrat Rep. Joe Donnelly in 2010, largely due to Donnelly's early negative television blitz.
Sources in Indiana say that Donnelly was the first Democrat incumbent in the nation to go negative in 2010 on his opponent, starting the ad war against Walorski in late June.
The dynamics of IN-02 have changed since last time. Walorski has raised more money this time around, and a redrawn district map passed by the GOP-controlled state legislature makes the district an R+7 seat, according to Rudy Yakym III, a Walorski campaign strategist.
Democrats have stumbled in candidate recruitment as incumbent Joe Donnelly is now running for U.S. Senate to replace Sen. Richard Lugar (R), who lost his primary battle against the more conservative Richard Mourdock.
Brendan Mullen, the man Democrats are hoping will hold the seat for them, recently moved back to the district after living in D.C. for years and working with government contracts. Brendon DelToro, Walorski's campaign manager, notes that Mullen lost 9 out of the district's 10 counties in the Democratic primary to a no-name challenger. Proof, he says, that Mullen is simply somebody Democrats "are stuck with."
Mullen has struggled to hit a stride selling himself as a moderate Democrat. He wholeheartedly embraced ObamaCare and told media outlets throughout the district he would vote against repealing the law if elected. The recent Supreme Court decision to uphold the law has not been popular with Indiana voters, and Mullen has since tried to retrace his rhetorical steps without success. He's stuck wanting the law but facing a significant number of voters demanding a repeal and a rework of the reform.
Between her strong messaging on jobs and the economy, a message backed up by her record as a state legislator, and her appeal to the generally conservative voters of the district, Walorski is running a strong campaign fueled by good fundraising and help from national conservatives.
That's not to say the road to November will be a coronation. Far from it. The DCCC has already reserved nearly $300,000 in television airtime; proof they will only lose the seat with a fight. Conservatives should be heartened that a rock solid, commonsense candidate with a wealth of state legislative experience is waging a good fight to win this likeliest pick-up seat for Republicans this cycle.