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Wealthy first-time candidates seek Indiana GOP Congress bids

April 26, 2016

Wealthy first-time candidates are working to elbow their way past crowded fields of experienced officeholders in the Republican primaries for two open Indiana congressional seats.

The districts at opposite ends of the state opened up with the decisions of U.S. Reps. Marlin Stutzman and Todd Young to pursue election to the Senate, with Republican rivals packing the ballots for the May 3 primary in the GOP-leaning districts Young and Stutzman won in 2010.

The race among five candidates for the 9th District seat now held by Young has been dominated by the heavy television advertising campaign run by Trey Hollingsworth, a 32-year-old who moved to Jeffersonville in September from Tennessee and has so far pumped at least $1.3 million of personal money into his election effort.

Hollingsworth has presented himself as a conservative outsider aiming to shake up Congress, while also taking swipes at his rivals, who have been unable to match his television presence in the district spanning from the Ohio River to the southern suburbs of Indianapolis.

Other prominent candidates in the race are two-term state Attorney General Greg Zoeller and state Sens. Erin Houchin of Salem and Brent Waltz of Greenwood.

Zoeller says Hollingsworth is trying to buy the congressional seat by overwhelming the other candidates with an "all-paid media" campaign.

"He's made a lot of being an outsider which, in some respects, is deceptive," Zoeller said. "He's an outsider to our community, state and Hoosier sensibility."

Candidate disclosure reports show Hollingsworth has declared financial assets worth more than $58 million and had raised only about $18,000 in contributions beyond what he had given his campaign by mid-April. He points to his Indiana-based companies, including a Bluffton aluminum plant, as his ties to the state and said his wife's family in the Louisville, Kentucky, area prompted their move to southern Indiana.

"Career incumbents and career politicians wield their advantages for their own benefit," he said. "I can't be bought with a better office or a better title."

Hollingsworth's campaign has been boosted by a super PAC that has spent more than $400,000 on his behalf and is entirely funded by his father — Joseph A. Hollingsworth Jr., the owner of Tennessee-based Hollingsworth Companies, which constructs industrial parks and has substantial holdings across the South.

Such super PACs by law are not allowed to coordinate with candidates or their campaigns.

"I'm certainly happy that my dad is supportive of any advocacy," Hollingsworth said. "And that's it for that."

The race for northeastern Indiana's 3rd District, now held by Stutzman, has a larger field of six candidates but less lopsided spending.

Kip Tom, whose family has a large grain commodity business near Warsaw, is echoing a similar outsider script in his effort to beat out Republican state Sens. Jim Banks of Columbia City and Liz Brown of Fort Wayne and retired surgeon Pam Galloway, a former Wisconsin legislator who moved to Warsaw in 2012.

The candidates have largely been trying to certify themselves as the most conservative, said Steve Shine, the Republican Party chairman for Allen County, which includes Fort Wayne.

"Whether the issue will be right to life or taxation, business development or religious freedom, each of the candidates are trying to explain to the voting public that their position is the more conservative in the district," Shine said.

Tom has touted his experience as an appointee of former Gov. Mitch Daniels to the Indiana Economic Development Corp. board and spoken out against the U.S. House Freedom Caucus, the group of conservative GOP House members that includes Stutzman and pushed for former Speaker John Boehner's resignation last year.

"We've probably had the most name awareness to create," Tom said.

Banks, who spent eight months in Afghanistan during 2014-15 as a member of the Navy Reserve, has benefited from the backing of several national conservative groups. Brown was a leading sponsor of the Indiana law approved this year that bans abortions sought because of genetic abnormalities and mandates an aborted fetus be buried or cremated.

Such large fields of prominent candidates can lead to outcomes such as when Republican Rep. Dan Burton won re-nomination to his central Indiana seat in 2010 with 30 percent of the vote.

Mike Murphy, a former Republican state representative from Indianapolis, was among those who challenged Burton and said he and others jumped when they saw Burton was vulnerable to defeat.

"That encouraged way too many people to jump in the race, which turned out to be a fatal mistake for all of us," Murphy said. "The person with the highest name ID will have the advantage."

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