Democratic candidates for statewide office hit the airwaves this week with their first television commercials of the fall campaign, hoping to propel their chances of pulling off upsets in deeply Republican Indiana.
Recent polls showing close races in Republican U.S. Sen. Todd Young’s re-election bid and for Indiana’s open secretary of state seat may have influenced the timing of the ads, said Laura Merrifield Wilson, political science professor at the University of Indianapolis. The commercials also come as early voting begins.
“I could see them thinking this is the hot moment to strike,” Wilson said.
In a 30-second TV ad that began airing this week, Democrat Tom McDermott criticized Republican opponent Sen. Todd Young for supporting abortion restrictions.
“My opponent, Todd Young, would ban and criminalize abortion, with no exceptions for rape, incest and even to save the life of the mother,” he says. “That’s just cruel.”
In 2016, Indiana Right to Life published a survey that showed Young indicating that abortion should be illegal in all cases.
However, a Young spokesman said the senator also provided an addendum at that time explaining that while he believes life begins at conception, he is “at peace” with certain exceptions being included in an abortion ban.
“Senator Young has always said this issue should be decided by the people through their elected representatives and does not oppose exceptions in these rare circumstances,” the spokesman said.
Young has defended the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, saying the issue of abortion should be left up to individual states. His campaign began running an ad last month that leans on his military experience while making no mention of McDermott or abortion.
For Democrats, discussing abortion could help win on-the-fence suburban women—specifically in suburban Indianapolis—said Ball State University political science professor Chad Kinsella.
Wells, the Democratic candidate for secretary of state, released an ad Tuesday, which emphasizes that her opponent, Diego Morales, has been fired from the Secretary of State’s Office.
While the ad is negative towards Morales, it avoids mention of his more recent controversies, which include sexual harrassment allegations that Morales has strongly denied.
Morales hasn’t released an ad since June, though the campaign told IBJ it plans to run a TV ad closer to Election Day.
Kinsella said the decision to lean negative in ads makes sense for Democrats going for a statewide office in Indiana.
“It’s going to be a tough thing for, you know, a Democrat to win in a statewide race in Indiana,” Kinsella said. “So it’s like you have to go negative and you have to advertise.”
In Democrat-dominated Marion County, Republican prosecutor candidate Cyndi Carrasco is the one who has chosen to go negative.
Her first two ads, released Sept. 6 and Sept. 27, attack current Democratic prosecutor Ryan Mears as failing to keep Indianapolis safe and for failing to use Indiana’s “red flag” law to help keep guns out of the hands of the shooter in the FedEx mass shooting April 2021.
Mears’ first ad, released this week, just amplifies an aspect of his work as prosecutor.
In an ad that Mears never physically appears in, a man named Lurenzo Johnson speaks about the importance of second-chance programs and criminal-record expungement. In the ad, Johnson says he was able to remove his past from his record.
“With Ryan Mears offering these second chances for a lot of us in the community … I know for sure it will make it a safer environment for our community,” Johnson said.
According to FCC documents, Mears’ ad is scheduled to run through Oct. 17.
State legislative races don’t often require television commercials. But Republican State Sen. Kyle Walker, who represents an increasingly competitive district that includes Fishers and part of Lawrence, released a second ad this week emphasizing his record of fiscal conservatism.
“I voted for tax cuts and a balanced budget that not only increases funding for police, but also raises public school funding to historic levels,” he says.
Walker was one of a few Republicans who came out in support of allowing abortions up to 12-15 weeks into a pregnancy. He also voted against Indiana’s abortion ban.
His opponent, Jocelyn Vare, a Democrat and at-large member of Fishers City Council, has said she would try and repeal Indiana’s abortion ban if elected.
Walker’s campaign spent more than $25,000 to air the ad on local TV stations, according to FCC documents.