New Poll, New TV Ads in Indiana House Race

Nathan L. Gonzales April 21, 2016 · 11:00 AM EDT

Indiana’s presidential primary is poised to play a critical role in whether Donald Trump can secure a majority of delegates before the the Republican convention. But the Hoosier State is also hosting competitive primary races for the Senate and two open congressional seats on May 3.

As GOP Reps. Marlin Stutzman and Todd Young battle in the Senate primary to replace Republican incumbent Dan Coats, there are competitive primaries to replace each Member in the House.

In Stutzman’s 3rd District, an April 10-11 poll of likely Republican primary voters by Wilson Perkins Allen Research for state Sen. The Jim Banks campaign and released exclusively to Roll Call and The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report showed Banks leading the GOP race with 28 percent followed by wealthy agri-businessman Kip Tom (18 percent), state Sen. Liz Brown (14 percent), and former Wisconsin state Sen. Pam Galloway (6 percent), who moved to the district in 2012 to be closer to family.

The survey also showed that all three top contenders have positive images, even though they are in the home stretch of a competitive primary. Banks was at 53 percent favorable/9 percent unfavorable, Brown 45 percent favorable/15 percent unfavorable, and Tom 43 percent favorable/12 percent unfavorable, in the WPA poll. 

That dynamic could change considering Tom recently switched out his positive television ads for a negative ad that characterizes all three of his opponents as career politicians, then switched again to an ad that focusd on Banks. 

Up to this point, House Freedom Fund PAC, the political arm of the House Freedom Caucus, has helped Banks stay even with and sometimes outspend Tom on television. Tom is scheduled to increase his television buy considerably in the final two weeks, but the Club for Growth, which has endorsed Banks, is poised to begin its ad campaign on Tuesday. 

The 30-second ad, entitled “Liberal Insider,” goes after what looks like the primary threat to Banks winning the nomination. The ad is scheduled to air on broadcast and cable in Fort Wayne, which covers the vast majority of the 3rd District.

“Kip Tom is claiming to be a conservative outsider, when he’s really a liberal insider,” said Club for Growth Action president and former Indiana Rep. David McIntosh in a release, “Tom is on the board of a corporate group that has repeatedly donated to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. He’s also on the board of a quasi-governmental corporation that has been criticized for its lack of transparency, while giving out corporate welfare.”

In a district anchored by Fort Wayne, Brown started the race as the initial front-runner because she had the highest name identification and a constituent base in Allen County. She was briefly on television but went dark recently.

Banks has been a steady presence on television with two bio ads, which were reinforced by the positive Freedom Fund spot, and his campaign should benefit from the Club ad against Tom. Outside groups can coordinate with each other but not with the candidate or campaign committees. Tom started his television campaign well over a month ago and has grown his name identification from virtually zero to being a credible contender.

You can read an initial, baseline analysis of the race in our August 21 issue.

The race is an attractive target for outside groups because it is a single race (it’s a primary for a safe Republican seat without a runoff) in a district with relatively inexpensive and efficient media markets. At least 80 percent of the voters receive Fort Wayne television while 15-20 percent are in the South Bend media market. 

Tom’s allies are confident his profile as a political outsider will trump the rest of the field. But the equation is complicated by Banks’s support from outside groups that usually assist anti-establishment candidates. Banks’s allies also believe his military and national security profile is resonating more than Tom’s message as a farmer and outsider.

With two weeks before the primary, Banks looks like the frontrunner, but Tom is a serious contender and there is a sizable chunk of undecided voters that could still impact the race. Winning the GOP primary is tantamount to the general election in a district Mitt Romney carried with 63 percent in 2012.