The Indiana Election Commission is set Friday to hear a challenge to U.S. Rep. Todd Young's place on the ballot for the state's open U.S. Senate seat, after Democrats and his tea party-backed Republican primary opponent filed objections.
They contend Young's candidacy paperwork was three voter signatures shy of meeting a state election requirement — a razor-thin margin that provoked a strong reaction within the state's Republican Party.
Young's campaign dismissed the challenge as a "political stunt." But some Republican leaders were not amused.
"If it's true, it's one of the most colossal mistakes I've ever seen," GOP state Senate Leader David Long said last week.
The challenge Young faces from the right highlights a schism in the state GOP that pits the chamber of commerce Republican establishment against Tea Party conservatives, who are backing fellow GOP Congressman Marlin Stutzman in the primary.
If Young is not allowed on the ballot, Stutzman would be the only GOP candidate left in the field — a possibility that has many Democrats gleeful. They prefer to face Stutzman, who they view as extremely conservative with an outspoken nature that could turn off general election voters. They compared him to former GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who made incendiary comments about abortion and rape before losing the 2012 Senate race to Democrat Joe Donnelly.
At issue in the challenge is Indiana's restrictive ballot requirements.
State law requires Senate candidates to submit signatures from 500 registered voters from each of Indiana's nine congressional districts to qualify for the May primary ballot.
The state Election Division reported Young had 501 signatures in the 1st Congressional District, but Democrats and Stutzman have challenged that number. An Associated Press analysis of Young's petitions found he was three signatures short.
Young will stay on the Indiana ballot unless three of the four commission members vote to remove him.
Any decision from the hearing also can be challenged in court.
The Indiana race could have national implications as Democrats seek a net gain of four Senate seats to retake the majority from Republicans. That would require the Democratic nominee for president to win in November and allowing the vice president to break Senate ties. Until the potential blunder by Young, Republicans were favored to retain the seat now held by retiring U.S. Sen. Dan Coats.