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Jennifer Wagner: This fall’s election is all about anger

August 10, 2018

WagnerWith just a few months left before this year’s midterm election, one thing is clear: Everyone is pissed off.

Sometimes, voters want hope and change. Sometimes, they want to throw the bums out. This year, they’re just mad—all the time and at everything.

Both parties are experiencing an existential split. Republicans are either ticked at Donald Trump or angrily rallying to his defense as he attacks anyone who disagrees with him. Democrats are divided into disruptive progressives and a more moderate wing that still believes there’s work to be done across the aisle.

Public officials are being shouted down in public places. Reporters and news outlets have been called enemies of the people. The president continues to use his Twitter account to taunt foreign leaders and bro-hug Vladimir Putin.

But what does it all mean for November, when both the House and Senate could change hands from Republican to Democratic control? At this point, I’d argue it’s still anyone’s best guess, but I think we’ve got a good bellwether race to watch.

In recent weeks, national political prognosticators moved two Indiana congressional races—the 2nd District in northern Indiana and the 9th District in southern Indiana—from solid Republican to likely Republican.

For finger-in-the-wind purposes, let’s focus on the 9th District race.

Two years ago, Democrat Shelli Yoder, a longtime Bloomington resident who ran her second congressional campaign as a strong candidate with elected experience as a Monroe County Council member, challenged rookie candidate Trey Hollingsworth, who moved to Indiana specifically to run for Congress.

She raised money, ran a solid race, and in any other year should have had a good shot at toppling Hollingsworth—even though it’s a difficult district. (Full disclosure: I volunteered to help Yoder at the beginning of her campaign.)

Fast forward two years, and congressman Hollings-worth is facing a very different challenger: a progressive liberal who’s spent most of her professional career in Washington and who, like Hollingsworth, moved to Indiana to seek elected office. She’s worked hard, outraised Hollingsworth and earned support, especially from progressive women both in Bloomington and across the district, all factors that led to last month’s ratings shift.

But the big thing that’s changed: Donald Trump is now the only candidate at the top of the ballot. Republicans are trying to run alongside him without getting too close to alienate moderates; Democrats are running at full speedagainst him.

There are districts across the country like Indiana’s 9th, where GOP incumbents who look safe on paper are feeling the heat. Some Republicans in more moderate districts have simply retired to preserve their reputations and avoid contentious primary or general election challenges. That’s created more open seats where there’s no incumbent advantage.

Meanwhile, the president keeps tweeting, and people keep getting morepissed off.

Who will prevail in the anger fight when ballots are counted a few months from now? Unclear how that story ends, but, oh, what a difference two years makes.•

Click here for more Forefront columns.

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Wagner is a lifelong Indianapolis resident and vice president of communications at EdChoice. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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