Jackie Walorski and Susan Brooks are seeking to become the first Republican congresswomen from Indiana in half a century as the GOP seeks to retain the advantage it holds in the state's congressional delegation.
For the second straight election, Indiana has three open seats, following the retirement of 30-year U.S. Rep. Dan Burton in the 5th District and decisions by Republican Mike Pence and Democrat Joe Donnelly to seek other office. Until 2010, the state had gone nearly five decades with no more than two U.S. House seats open at the same time.
Walorski, who narrowly lost the 2nd District race to Donnelly two years ago, hopes the second time's the charm in the district that state lawmakers redrew to include more Republicans. The former state representative faces Iraq War veteran Brendan Mullen.
Brooks, a former U.S. attorney, is running against state Rep. Scott Reske for Burton's seat in central Indiana. If Walorski or Brooks wins, they would be the first female Republicans from Indiana in Congress since Cecil Harden lost her re-election bid in 1958 after five terms.
Democrats are also fielding two women to challenge incumbents: Tara Nelson is running against Rep. Todd Rokita in the 4th District, and Shelli Yoder faces Todd Young in the 9th District.
Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Jill Long Thompson, who held the seat in northeast Indiana from 1989 until losing to Republican Mark Souder in 1994, said neither party is doing enough to recruit women for lower-level offices that would prepare them to run for Congress.
"There has to be a genuine concerted effort toward recruiting and training and working with younger candidates to get them prepared to run for office," she said. "That simply hasn't happened to any great degree in our state, and there are literally thousands of very talented women across the state whose leadership and input could be very valuable."
Indiana has had four Democratic congresswomen, most recently Julia Carson, who held the office 11 years until her death in 2007. Her grandson, Democrat Andre Carson, is heavily favored to win a third term over Republican Carlos May in the 7th District seat Julia Carson formerly held.
Long Thompson said she is always pleased to see women running for office, regardless of party affiliation.
"The more that women run for office, the more talent and brain power we bring to the table," she said. "When we exclude an entire group of our population from decision-making, we're not bringing all our resources to the table to address the challenges we face as a country."
One of the more closely watched races involves incumbent Republican Rep. Larry Bucshon, who faces a strong challenge from former Democratic state Rep. Dave Crooks in the southwestern Indiana congressional district known as the "Bloody 8th" for its history of contentious races. The seat has changed hands three times since 1995.
Bucshon first won the seat in the Republican-leaning district in 2010 when incumbent Democratic Rep. Brad Ellsworth vacated it to run for Senate. But Bucshon became more vulnerable this year after Republican state lawmakers redrew congressional lines and included more Democrats in the district.
Republicans were expected to keep a strong edge in the nine-member delegation. Former Republican state Rep. Luke Messer is favored over Democratic Delaware County Council member Bradley Bookout for Pence's seat, and three freshman Republicans — Reps. Marlin Stutzman, Todd Young and Todd Rokita — all were heavily favored to win re-election.
Democratic Rep. Pete Visclosky is heavily favored to win a 15th term against political newcomer Joel Phelps. If he wins, Visclosky would replace Burton as the senior member of Indiana's congressional delegation.
Despite the open seats, Brian Vargus, a longtime political science professor, said this year's Indiana congressional races have been largely silent, with the exception of the races involving Walorski and Bucshon. Most attention has been paid to the Senate, gubernatorial and presidential races.
"The congressional races did not generate, in many parts of the state, much excitement," he said. "The Senate race, especially, sucked all the wind out of all the rest of the campaigns. Nobody is paying attention."