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Carpetbagger charge could affect Indiana congressional race

May 5, 2016

The Democratic nominee for an open Indiana congressional seat predicts she can win in the traditionally strong Republican district if voters reject her GOP opponent as a carpetbagger from Tennessee trying to use his family's millions to buy the seat.

Joseph "Trey" Hollingsworth III, 32, who recently moved to Jeffersonville in southern Indiana, embraced his status as a political outsider after defeating four other Republicans — including three public office holders — in the primary.

"We are sending a nominee into the general election who has outside experience, who has business experience and who can bring change in November," Hollingsworth told The Associated Press Tuesday night after clinching the nomination.

But Democratic nominee Sherri Yoder, a Monroe County councilwoman who lost by 10 percentage points in her first run for the seat in 2012, is trying to convince supporters of some of the other GOP candidates to back her in November. Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller and state Sen. Eric Houchin were among the Republicans Hollingsworth defeated in the primary.

"When you run hard and you get beat by someone who has a lot of money and a super PAC run by his dad, it stings," Yoder said. "These are candidates that have served our state very well."

Hollingsworth was set up in business by his father with whom he owns several companies, including one that constructs industrial parks and has substantial holdings across the South. Candidate disclosure reports show Hollingsworth has declared financial assets worth more than $58 million.

Hollingsworth pumped more than $1 million into his own campaign and attacked his GOP opponents as career politicians in a flurry of TV ads. He also gained a $400,000 boost from a super PAC funded entirely by his father.

He moved to Indiana late last year just before filing to run for the open 9th District, which is being vacated by Republican Todd Young, now the nominee for Senate. Since the district was redrawn in 2011 to make it friendlier to Republicans, Young has been easily re-elected twice — including in 2012 against Yoder.

It's not unprecedented for outsider candidates to swoop into a state and vie for federal offices. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was criticized in 2000 when she ran for an open New York U.S. Senate seat and won despite not living in the state. Robert F. Kennedy, the brother of former President John F. Kennedy, also won that seat in 1964 despite not living in New York.

But under Indiana law, Hollingsworth had to seek permission from the county party to run for the seat. Jamey Noel, Clark County's GOP chairman, said he asked "tough questions" about social and fiscal issues when he signed off on Hollingsworth's candidacy.

Yoder, a native of rural Shipshewana and a former Miss Indiana, grew up working at her family's gas station until her parents lost the business in the 1980s. She attended Indiana University-South Bend and Vanderbilt University and is now a professor at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business

Yoder doubts Hollingsworth's approach to fundraising will resonate with voters.

"We are hearing it again and again," Yoder said. "We really have a race that is demonstrating all that is wrong with how our campaigns are financed."

One of the most recent advertisements from Hollingsworth's campaign features him at one of his Indiana manufacturing plants tagging himself as a "businessman, outsider, and Christian conservative," which mirrors an appeal to the same voter base as business mogul and presidential GOP candidate Donald Trump, who won also won Indiana Tuesday.

"He came in from an outsider's approach," Noel said. "He obviously is what the voters expect and want."

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