Republicans could strengthen their hold on Indiana's nine-member congressional delegation Tuesday, but even with new political districts designed to give them an advantage, Democrats aren't likely to be down and out for the long haul.
History shows that candidates willing to start running again soon after losing a close race can be successful in their next outing. In the 9th District in in southwest Indiana, Republican Mike Sodrel was beaten by Democratic Rep. Baron Hill in 2002 and then won in 2004, before losing his next two races. The 2nd District has been the land of second chances. Republican Chris Chocola won in 2002 after losing to Democrat Tim Roemer two years earlier. Then Democrat Joe Donnelly, now running for the U.S. Senate, beat Chocola in 2006 after losing to him two years earlier.
Republican Jackie Walorski, who lost to Donnelly by 2,538 votes two years ago, is hoping the trend continues. She started running again less than five months later. She said it's been difficult to maintain such a long campaign, but her husband has been very supportive.
Andrew Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, said there are four races that could be close, although he believes each favors the Republican this time around.
Those races include the one between Walorski and Democrat Brendan Mullen in a district that includes South Bend; a tough match between Republican Rep. Larry Bucshon and former Democratic state Rep. Dave Crooks in the district around Evansville known as the "Bloody 8th" because of its history of close, contentious races; the contest between Rep. Todd Young and Democrat Shelli Yoder in the southeastern area of the state; and Republican former U.S. Attorney Susan Brooks' run against Democratic state Rep. Scott Reske in an district that includes a part of Indianapolis and nearby areas.
If Republicans win all those races and everything else goes as Downs expects, Republicans would have a 7-2 edge in the congressional delegation. That would be the most lopsided split since the GOP led by the same margin in 2004. But just two years after that, Democrats bounced back and won three seats to win a 5-4 advantage.
That's part of the reason Downs said it might not be as bad as Democrats feared after Republicans took advantage of the once-per-decade redrawing of congressional boundaries to give their candidates an advantage. Congressional districts are supposed to be revised after each census to reflect population changes in the past decade.
"This could be one of those years where as far as the win-loss sheets go, you could say that was a really bad year for Democrats," Downs said. "But you take a race that somebody was supposed to win in a walk and it's less than 10 points, suddenly you start asking yourself what could happen two years from now."
Mullen, who is running for office for the first time, said while Walorski, who served three terms in the Indiana General Assembly, has essentially been running full-time for four years, he's not sure how much of an advantage that will be. He believes many identify her as a tea party candidate, and he thinks being a newcomer is a positive.
"The people of the 2nd Congressional District aren't looking for a professional candidate. They're looking for a voice that has real-world experience," he said. "Despite the fact I've been at this for 18 months and she's been at it four straight years, this thing is razor close."
Walorski said she doesn't know whether running back-to-back campaigns gave her a better shot in the end.
"I'm not a prognosticator," she said.
Asked whether he'd take Downs' advice and run again if he loses, Mullen said he couldn't think about that now.
In southwest Indiana, Bucshon said there advantages and disadvantages to running as an incumbent. He is a heart surgeon and was a political newcomer when he defeated Democratic state Rep. Trent Van Haaften for the seat Democrat Brad Ellsworth gave up to make an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate.
"People know who you are and know what you stand for, for the most part. That's a positive thing," he said. "On the other hand, now you have policy differences with your opponent and now that you have a voting record. So even though I'm running on my record and I'm proud of my record. But now I have a record that my opponent can attack me on."
Bucshon said he believes it's a level playing field in his current race because Crooks was a state legislator from 1996 to 2008 and has a record to defend.
Crooks, who began campaigning in April 2011, said it's hard because there's a constant focus on raising money.
"That's one reason these campaigns are starting sooner than normal because it took me 18 months to raise $1 million," he said.