By Lesley Weidenbener
Lesley Weidenbener, executive editor, TheStatehouseFile.com
INDIANAPOLIS – For a time, when Indiana’s 9th congressional district ran along the Ohio River, all eyes watched in November as close battles kept voters in suspense.
That’s when Democrat Baron Hill and Republican Mike Sodrel traded the seat back and forth – and before Republican Todd Young knocked Hill off seemingly for good.
But today, with a district drawn along the Interstate 65 corridor and Young running for U.S. Senate, the action has moved from the general election to the GOP primary.
Three Republicans are already in the race: Attorney General Greg Zoeller and state Sens. Brent Waltz of Greenwood and Erin Houchin of Salem.
Houchin, who was elected to the state Senate in 2014, kicked off her campaign last Wednesday, promising to fight for a federal balanced budget amendment to control what she calls “reckless” debt and spending in Washington D.C.
Waltz, who was first elected to the state Senate in 2004, announced his campaign a day later, telling voters he’ll serve with “principle and conviction” if elected to the U.S. House.
Republicans, from left, Erin Houchin, Greg Zoeller and Brent Waltz
Zoeller, meanwhile, had already created a campaign committee for the congressional race but won’t publicly announce until Monday, when he’s scheduled to appear in Jeffersonville.
The race promises to be a good one – pitting three proven voter getters against one another in a district that leans Republican.
The candidates have natural constituencies in different areas of the district. Zoeller originally hails from its southern most reaches, down along the Ohio River where he grew up in New Albany.
Houchin is from Salem, which sits in the middle of the district and serves a state Senate district that encompasses much of the region.
Waltz comes from Johnson County at the northern most edge of the 9th District, an area packed with GOP voters.
And they’re each well qualified. There are no lightweights in this race.
Eleven years ago, Waltz knocked off long-time Senate Finance Chairman Larry Borst, then one of the most powerful lawmakers at the Statehouse. Since then, Waltz has been active in issues involving criminal justice and mass transit. And previously he served as president of the Johnson County Council.
Houchin has the least experience as an elected official, having served just two years in the state Senate. But she’s a former 9th District Republican chair, has helped train other candidates seeking elected office, and served as the Southeast Indiana regional director for outgoing Sen. Dan Coats.
Zoeller, meanwhile, has had a long career in politics and government. He’s in his second term as the state’s attorney general after serving as chief deputy in the office. He served a decade in private practice as an attorney and spent 10 years as an executive assistant to Republican Dan Quayle – first in his Senate office and then while he was vice president.
And they all have solid conservative credentials.
The result could be one of the best Republican battles in Indiana next year – although it might get overshadowed by the GOP Senate primary. But pay attention. It will be a good one.
Lesley Weidenbener is the executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.