Anonymous is a Hoosier—Spartz's closing message—Klain talks up Buttigieg—Young stumps for James in MI

Is the 5th district inching out of Republicans' hands?

DAYS UNTIL ELECTION DAY: 4

In the waning days of the race, Indiana’s 5th Congressional District contest is leaning Democratic, as Republican Victoria Spartz’s closing message reveals her on the defensive and Democrat Christina Hale continues her focus on healthcare down the homestretch.

Privately, Democrats say Hale appears well-positioned to win on Tuesday. Republicans, for their part, are lamenting what they say is a defensive posture from Spartz. Nonpartisan political analysis outfit Inside Elections, meanwhile, has changed the race from “toss-up” to “tilt Democrat.” Roll Call posted the same ratings change.

In an eyebrow-raising final ad, “Ashamed,” Spartz’s campaign features her father-in-law, who is suffering from stage 4 cancer, speaking directly to the camera, assailing Hale for what the campaign describes as “vicious, dishonest negative ads.”

“Christina Hale is dragging Victoria Spartz, and my family, through the mud,” Charles Spartz says. “I served in the military and farmed my whole life. Now I’m fighting stage four cancer. I need to set the record straight while I can.”

Hale’s own political shop has run a largely positive campaign, though outside groups have attacked Spartz’s business and legislative record.

In an interview with the WIBC radio host Tony Katz Thursday, Spartz, flanked by outgoing Republican Rep. Susan Brooks, admitted that she has struggled to break through the noise of negative attacks.

“The new Spartz T.V. spot featuring her [father-in-law] that has cancer seems to be reactionary,” an unaffiliated Republican operative, granted anonymity to speak candidly about the state of the race, told me Thursday. “Clearly the Hale attacks on Spartz’s healthcare issues have teeth in her internal polling.”

Another Republican operative based in the district said the race comes down to the national environment. “This race’s outcome is directly tied to the outcome at the top of the ticket and margins matter,” this person said. “The question is, has Biden built enough of a coalition of anti-Trump voters to significantly shrink the President’s 2016 margin of victory, or do voters believe that Trump can bring back the pre-COVID economic successes? If it’s the latter, Trump and Spartz win. If Biden can shrink Trump’s 2016 margin of victory to low single digits, things could get interesting.”

But perhaps the most revealing moment about the race comes from Spartz herself.

“I wish people would pay more attention and actually vote for the candidate,” Republican Victoria Spartz told The New York Times in a recent interview, “not for the party.”

It’s a remarkable change in messaging for a candidate who clung to Trump closely in the primary. And it’s a shift from this past June when the Spartz campaign spun internal polling produced by Democrat Christina Hale showing Hale leading Spartz 51%-45%. (The same poll also showed former Vice President Joe Biden leading President Trump by 10 points, 53%-43%.)

Back then, Spartz’s campaign manager—the second of three to hold the position—told me:

To believe this poll, you need to believe that President Trump is currently down 10 points in a district he carried by 12. For those counting at home, that would be an unbelievable 22-point swing. Hale provided no detail on partisan breakdown of voters, crosstabs or anything else that would substantiate her concocted numbers. For all we know this poll could be all Democrats.

And yet that appears pretty close to the dynamic now playing out in the race. Spartz has spent much of the general election running away from President Trump.

As in the Times quote, she has put distance between herself and the president—both figuratively and, sometimes, literally: Her yard signs have, for the most part, been strategically placed independent of Trump signs.

Good evening, and welcome back to IMPORTANTVILLE.

ON THE TRAIL

  • Sen. Todd Young, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, stumped for U.S. Senate candidate John James in Michigan on Wednesday.

  • Pete Buttigieg campaigned for former Vice President Joe Biden in Florida on Wednesday.

  • Ron Klain, viewed as a serious contender for chief of staff in a possible Biden administration, lauded Buttigieg’s efforts Monday in a call with Indiana volunteers. “There's no one doing more to help our party win than Mayor Pete,” Klain said.

  • The Democratic Attorney General Association is trying to expand the map by funneling more money into Indiana’s race late in the game, according to a release: “In Indiana, recent polling suggests that once Hoosiers hear Democratic AG nominee Jonathan Weinzapfel’s plan to protect health care and Republican AG nominee Todd Rokita’s dangerous record on health care, Weinzapfel takes the lead. To assist Weinzapfel’s campaign spread that winning message, DAGA’s investment doubled the campaign’s communications budget in the final ten days.”

AROUND IMPORTANTVILLE

  • Anonymous is a Hoosier, though not the Hoosier many expected. No, Vice President Mike Pence didn’t write the infamous op-ed that a member of the Resistance was working within the administration. Neither did former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. Instead, it was Miles Taylor, a LaPorte native, and Indiana University alum. (After agreeing to an August interview with me in which I planned to ask him if he was anonymous, Taylor ghosted me).

IMPORTANTVILLE READS

“‘There’s no help coming before the election’: Indiana’s RV capital faces its worst coronavirus outbreak alone,” by Todd Frankel in The Washington Post.

The worst of the pandemic is hitting Elkhart County, Ind., just days before the election. The number of new coronavirus cases is exploding. Positive test rates are three times the national average. Local hospitals are running low on beds, their doctors and nurses exhausted.

Yet Elkhart’s public health leaders and politicians know exactly what needs to be done — how to slow the virus and break the chains of transmission. They did it with success during a smaller outbreak this summer.

But they also know that’s not going to happen now.

“There’s no help coming before the election,” said Lydia Mertz, the county’s health officer, describing the delay — which might stretch on for weeks — as “extremely alarming.”

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