A question mark hangs over Republican Congressman Todd Young's candidacy for U.S. Senate after Indiana Democrats were joined by his GOP rival in charging that the presumed front-runner failed to meet a state ballot requirement.
U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, who is backed by the tea party, piled on after Democrats raised questions about Young's candidacy and argued he was shy of meeting the requirement for ballot petition signatures. The state Democratic Party on Wednesday filed a formal challenge to Young's placement on the ballot.
State law requires Senate candidates to submit signatures of 500 registered voters from each of Indiana's nine congressional districts to qualify for the May primary ballot. The state Election Division reported Young squeaked by with 501 signatures in northwestern Indiana's 1st Congressional District.
But Democrats say they calculated that Young is three signatures shy of the required 500. And an Associated Press analysis of Young's petitions for the 1st Congressional District also found he was three signatures short.
"Todd Young might have made a mistake," said Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody. "It's the responsibility of the campaign to collect those signatures and make sure they make the minimum."
Stutzman said in a written statement that Young has been "more focused on garnering establishment support in DC and raising money from corporate interests than in meeting with Hoosiers and engaging in a meaningful grassroots effort here in Indiana."
Democrats have made it clear that they want Stutzman to emerge as the GOP primary victor. They view him as an archconservative whose outspoken nature could turn off general election voters, much like former GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock. Democrats defeated Mourdock in 2012 after he made incendiary comments about abortion and rape.
Both Young and Stutzman hope to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Dan Coats. A third Republican, Eric Holcomb, dropped out of the race Monday after being tapped to become Gov. Mike Pence's re-election running mate.
Zody noted Wednesday that Democrats would have challenged Stutzman's ballot qualification, too, if they saw discrepancies. But he also went out of his way to characterize Stutzman as the "proven" and "true conservative" in the race while calling Young a "repeated flip-flopper."
Young's campaign, meanwhile, dismissed Democrats' challenge as a "political stunt." The campaign didn't comment on Stutzman's statement.
"We believe there are more than enough signatures for Todd to be on the ballot," campaign aide Cam Savage said. "The state seems to think that number is 501. We believe that number could be higher."
Young's fate will be decided by the state's bipartisan, four-member Election Commission, which will hold a hearing on the challenge on Feb. 19. Young will remain on the ballot unless three members vote to remove him, election officials say. Any decision, however, could be challenged in court.
Julia Vaughn, policy director of the left-leaning public interest group Common Cause, said she sympathized with Young and argued that his dilemma presents a compelling case to change the state's ballot laws, which she called "among the most restrictive in the nation."
"Todd Young wouldn't be the first candidate to be caught up in the stringency of our laws," Vaughn said. "Five-hundred good signatures can be a very hard threshold to meet."