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Trump at top of ticket creates wild card in Indiana Senate race

May 4, 2016

The race to be Indiana's next U.S. senator would appear to be Rep. Todd Young's to lose after his resounding victory in the Republican primary Tuesday, but the outcome of his faceoff with Democrat Baron Hill in November is no forgone conclusion.

The race will be a rematch of 2010, when Young defeated incumbent congressman Hill and rode a tea party wave to Washington.

With Republican front-runner Donald Trump's name at the top of the ticket, it could be a very different election than six years ago. Some Republicans fear Trump might be so unpopular with minorities and women that the presumptive nominee could drag down other candidates. Indiana also has a history of selecting moderate Democrats, most recently electing Sen. Joe Donnelly in 2012.

While Indiana has leaned Republican in recent elections, Young also must unify his party after a bitter primary in which he relentlessly attacked his tea-party backed opponent, Rep. Marlin Stutzman.

Despite the intraparty turmoil, Young said he expects Republicans to rally behind him because the race could have national implications as Democrats seek to retake control of the Senate from Republicans.

"Hoosiers are practical people, and Hoosier Republicans in particular have a history of unifying," Young told the Associated Press. "They understand the importance of holding on to this seat and beating Baron Hill."

Young presented himself during the primary as a pragmatic former U.S. Marine who is more interested in getting things done than lobbing verbal bombs. To back up his talk, Young's campaign points to several bills he ushered through the House that died in the Senate. Young also joined Democrats to co-sponsor a law requiring some Medicaid patients to be given additional information to help them manage medical care costs.

Stutzman, on the other hand, called himself an outsider and small-town farmer. He also played up his membership in the House Freedom Caucus, a Republican faction that wanted to confront Democrats and made the GOP-controlled House so unruly that former House Speaker John Boehner resigned.

But Hill says Young is still an ideologue and only looks pragmatic when compared to the most extreme of tea-party hardliners.

"I came out of political retirement because people are fed up and tired with all the political bickering that is going on in the House," said Hill, who was known as a moderate when he was in Congress. "I want to be bipartisan."

Still to be determined is Trump's impact on the race.

"They have reason to be concerned if Donald Trump is the Republican candidate for president," said Marjorie Hershey, a political science professor at Indiana University. "If Indiana were to elect a Democrat to the Senate, it would be somebody like Baron Hill."

Among all GOP voters, three-quarters say they would support Trump in November, an AP survey of Indiana voters found. But the results show Trump would be a tough sell for the remaining quarter of primary voters. That could affect turnout in November.

So far, Young has ducked questions about Trump by saying, "I'm not going to get distracted by others races." Young said Tuesday that he will support the GOP nominee for president, but it's a subject Hill hopes to exploit.

"I think Donald Trump is going to have a role to play. I denounce the things Donald Trump has said — this is not a guy I would want to take my grandchildren to listen to," Hill told the AP.

Young's campaign has already survived one major error of its own doing. In February, Democrats and Stutzman complained that Young had failed to collect enough voter signatures from one congressional district to qualify for the ballot. An Associated Press count found Young was three signatures short. But the state election board deadlocked 4-4 along partisan lines, which allowed Young to stay on the ballot.

That fumble shocked state GOP leaders who said at the time it was an amateur move that suggested Young may not be ready for prime time.

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