Indiana Democrats are hoping to make a dent in the Republican supermajority in the state Senate this year and plan to target five seats—four of which are in Marion County—that they think they can flip in November.
Republicans currently control 40 of the 50 seats in the Indiana Senate. Half of the seats are up for election this year.
The Indiana Senate Democrats Committee, the campaign arm of the Indiana Senate Democratic Caucus, is expected to announce its first “Flip List” on Tuesday morning.
The targeted races:
- District 8 in northern Indiana;
- District 30, which includes part of the north side of Indianapolis and parts of Carmel and Fishers;
- District 32, which covers the southeast corner of Indianapolis;
- District 35, which includes the southwest side of Indianapolis, the town of Speedway and part of Hendricks County;
- District 36, which stretches from downtown Indianapolis south to part of Johnson County.
All five seats are held by Republicans seeking reelection:
- In District 8, Sen. Mike Bohacek faces Democrat Gary Davis;
- in District 30, Sen. John Ruckelshaus faces Democrat Fady Qaddoura;
- in District 32, Sen. Aaron Freeman faces Democrat Belinda Drake;
- in District 35, Sen. Mike Young faces Democrat Pete Cowden;
- and, in District 36, Sen. Jack Sandlin faces Democrat Ashley Eason.
Flipping all of the seats will likely be a challenge—four of the Republican incumbents won their races in 2016 by at least 16 percentage points, while Ruckelshaus won by 5 percentage points.
But Zach Brown, political director for the Senate Democrats Committee, said he believes momentum has shifted in Democrats’ favor in these districts and that the Democratic candidates are strong this year.
“We’re feeling a lot of enthusiasm in these areas,” Brown said. “These are races that have kind of risen to the top over the last year or so.”
Brown said data from recent elections is giving Democrats confidence this year, especially in Marion County. For example, in 2019, Democrats gained six seats on the Indianapolis City-County Council to build a 20-5 majority.
The Senate Democrats Committee is also looking at primary election results from June and how many Democratic votes were cast in the districts. In District 30, Qaddoura received 18,354 votes in an uncontested primary, while Ruckelshaus received 9,058 votes over Republican challenger Terry Michael, who received 2,187 votes. That’s a difference of more than 7,000 votes that were cast in the Democratic primary.
More Democratic than Republican votes were also cast in District 32, where Drake received 9,158 votes and Freeman received 8,486 votes. Both candidates were uncontested in their primary races.
Combined, the two Democratic candidates in District 36 received more votes than Sandlin in the primary, but head-to-head, Sandlin received more votes than Eason.
In District 35, more Republican than Democratic votes were cast. And in District 8, no Democratic candidate was on the ballot, but the party has since nominated Davis to be on the November ballot.
The District 30 seat, between Ruckelshaus and Qaddoura, might be considered the most competitive given the closer margins in 2016 and election results since then.
In 2018, former Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly won the district with 62% even though he lost the statewide race to Republican Mike Braun. In 2019, Democrat Keith Potts ousted Republican incumbent Colleen Fanning for the District 2 seat on the City-County Council, which overlaps with the Senate district boundaries.
Brown said the District 30 race reminds him of the Indiana Senate District 29 race in 2018 between Republican incumbent Mike Delph and Democrat J.D. Ford. That district includes parts of Marion, Boone and Hamilton counties. Ford won with 57% of the vote.
“It’s the same kind of demographic,” Brown said. “It’s educated voters that maybe in the past have leaned Republican.”
And the District 30 race has already garnered at least some outside attention. Allan Blutstein, senior vice president and director of public records for Arlington, Virginia-based America Rising Corp., has submitted multiple public records requests to the city of Indianapolis for information on Qaddoura, who worked as Indianapolis controller from 2016 through the end of 2019.
America Rising Corp. is known for its opposition research on Democratic candidates. In 2018, the firm supported Republican Indiana Congresswoman Jackie Walorski’s reelection effort by doing research on her opponent, Democrat Mel Hall. Walorski won reelection.
One request in particular, which was made in March, asked for Qaddoura’s annual compensation from 2016-2020, out-of-state travel records in the same timeframe, copies of appointment and resignation letters and his disciplinary records.
Blutstein did not respond to IBJ’s request for comment. Ruckelshaus also did not respond to IBJ’s request for comment.
Brown said he’s not surprised a Republican firm like that is involved in the race.
“That tells me they’re desperate,” Brown said. “They’re looking to go personal.”