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Republicans drive Indiana House primary challenges


Republicans drive Indiana House primary challenges

Apr 17, 2024 | 7:00 am ET
By Leslie Bonilla Muñiz
Republicans drive Indiana House primary challenges
The Indiana General Assembly gathered to hear Gov. Eric Holcomb's final State of the State Address Tuesday Jan. 9, 2024 in the House chamber. (Monroe Bush for the Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Some Hoosier primary election voters will have options as the Indiana House of Representatives’ 100 seats go on the ballot. The May 7 primary boasts 26 contested GOP races and six contested Democrat ones. Eight open seats have drawn two-dozen hopefuls.

That leaves many of the chamber’s incumbents facing no primary competition.

Those pulling GOP ballots are more likely to have multiple names to pick from: 38 of the 47 hopefuls facing candidates from their own parties are Republicans.

“Here in Indiana, we have really had a lot of success — 20 some years of legislative and executive achievements … We feel like we have a deep bench of talent here in the Republican Party,” Hoosier GOP Executive Director Joe Elsener told the Capital Chronicle.

“It’s not surprising to me that a lot of people have stepped up to lead and want to be part of that. And I think that’s good for the process,” he continued.

Just nine of the primary challengers are Democrats.

“It’s kind of how things shake out. Some folks think I have the power to say who can run and who can’t run for office. That’s not true,” Indiana Democratic Party Chair Mike Schmuhl said. “In our country — at least for the next few years — anybody can step up and run for office as long as they meet the requirements.”

Schmuhl indicated his party has prioritized offering voter choices at the November general election by putting up candidates in two-thirds of the races.

House Democrats have remained a superminority for more than a decade, meaning that Republicans don’t need a single one present to conduct legislative business. The Democratic Party has thus launched a new effort to “break the supermajority.”

Despite that campaign, Elsener said he’d “never” describe the Republican Party as being “on defense.”

Nearly 200 Hoosiers from both parties are running for the House, including incumbents.

“I have a lot of respect for anyone on either side of the aisle that puts their name forward to run for office and (I) appreciate folks willing to do that,” Elsener said. “It’s not easy.”

Open seats generate interest

Eight incumbents announced they won’s seek reelection, putting their seats up for grabs for the first time in years — and even decades.

Legislative retirees include Republican Reps. Bob Cherry of Greenfield, Randy Lyness of West Harrison, Donna Schaibley of Carmel, Jerry Torr of Carmel and Denny Zent of Angola.

Open seats include districts 24, 29, 39, 51, 53, 68, 77 and 90. Find your elected officials using a tool provided through the Indiana Secretary of State’s Office.

Three others forwent reelection to run for other offices, including Democratic Rep. Ryan Hatfield of Evansville, who is pursuing a judgeship for the Vanderburgh Circuit Court. GOP Reps. Chuck Goodrich of Noblesville and Mike Speedy of Indianapolis have waded into crowded congressional races.

Incumbents typically enjoy major advantages: stockpiled donations, political connections, experienced campaign teams and more.

Open seats, therefore, can attract throngs of competitive candidates. 

“It kind of has every candidate starting from the same place,” Schmuhl said.

Several of the vacated seats representing suburban Indianapolis communities have sparked multi-way competitions, according to a candidate list from the Secretary of State’s Office.

Four Republicans are vying to win their party’s nomination to House District 53, Cherry’s old seat:

  • Financial planning consultant and at-large Hancock County Council representative Keely Butrum,
  • Veteran and veteran’s group outreach executive Brian Evans,
  • Indiana National Guard employee and Hancock County Republican Party Vice-Chair Ethan Lawson, and
  • Businessman Kevin Mandrell.

Another four Republicans are competing for House District 90, previously Speedy’s seat:

  • Attorney Andrew Ireland, who previously worked as a deputy Indiana attorney general,
  • Substitute school bus driver Tim McVey,
  • David Waters, and
  • Business owner Elizabeth Williams.

In District 24, previously held by Schaibley, Republicans Bill Gutrich and former Indianapolis Colts punter Hunter Smith will face off.

So will Republicans Laura Alerding and Alaina Shonkwiler in District 29, previously held by Goodrich, plus Tony Isa and Rhonda Sharp in Distrit 51, previously held by Zent.

Other contested primary races

Nearly 20 GOP representatives face primary challengers. They include:

  • Rep. Jake Teshka of North Liberty (District 7), facing Timothy Jaycox;
  • Rep. Sharon Negele of Attica (District 13), facing Matt Commons;
  • Rep. Jim Pressel of Rolling Prairie (District 20), facing Richard Homer;
  • Rep. Jeff Thompson of Lizton (District 28), facing Joe Batic;
  • Rep. J.D. Prescott of Union City (District 33), facing Gregory LeMaster;
  • Rep. Greg Steuerwald of Avon (District 40), facing Brian Paasch;
  • Rep. Mark Genda of Frankfort (District 41), facing Joe Sturm;
  • Rep. Alan Morrison of Brazil (District 42), facing Tim Yocum;
  • Rep. Bruce Borders of Jasonville (District 45), facing Jeff Ellington and Kellie Streeter;
  • Rep. Joanna King of Middlebury (District 49), facing Cindy Hajicek;
  • Rep. Lorissa Sweet of Wabash (District 50), facing Rob Miller;
  • Rep. Ben Smaltz of Auburn (District 52), facing Curt Hammitt;
  • Rep. Matt Hostettler of Patoka (District 64), facing Dale Mallory;
  • Rep. Zach Payne of Charlestown (District 66), facing Jim Baker;
  • Rep. Alex Zimmerman of North Vernon (District 67), facing Chad Meinders;
  • Rep. Jim Lucas of Seymour (District 69), facing Brian Savilla;
  • Rep. Karen Engleman of Georgetown (District 70), facing John Colburn;
  • Rep. Jennifer Meltzer of Shelbyville (District 73), facing Edward Comstock II;
  • and Rep. Martin Carbaugh of Fort Wayne (District 81), facing David Mervar.

Other Republicans will compete in attempts to unseat Democrat incumbents in the general election:

They include Jeff Larson and Manuel Maldonado in District 10 —  held by Democrat Chuck Moseley of Portage — and Scott Hawkins and James McClure Jr. in District 71, held by Democrat Rita Fleming of Jeffersonville.

Meanwhile: Democrat Reps. Ragen Hatcher of Gary (District 3), John L. Bartlett of Indianapolis (District 95) and Justin Moed of Indianapolis (District 97) face primary challengers.

Democrat hopefuls Jim Phillips and John E. Bartlett will compete to challenge the winner of the Prescott-LeMaster contest in the general election.

Democrats Rick Cannon and Jennifer David will also meet in the primary; the victor will face the winner of the Payne-Baker matchup. Starr Joy Hairston and Stephanie Jo Yocum, both Democrats, will similarly vie to challenge Republican Rep. Chris Jeter of Fishers (District 88).

Note: This article was corrected to clarify opponents in two races.