By Leslie Bonilla Muñiz
Indiana Capital Chronicle
INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Republican Party on Thursday endorsed U.S. Rep. Jim Banks in his 2024 bid for Senate, marking the first time in at least recent history that the state party has made an endorsement before primary elections for an open seat.
U.S. Sen. Mike Braun is leaving the position to run for Indiana governor.
“You can start calling him the presumptive nominee and the next United States Senator from Indiana,” party Chair Kyle Hupfer said at the organization’s annual dinner Thursday night.
“I’m proud to have your endorsement,” Banks responded. “When I go to Washington D.C. as your United States senator I won’t back down on fighting the fight every day for our conservative values. I’ll make you proud.”
“I promise you that I really don’t take it lightly, Mr. Chairman,” Banks added.
Banks also gave the keynote speech at Thursday’s dinner — and told reporters later that the endorsement was a “surprise” that his campaign only “caught wind of leading up to the event.”
What this does
The move means national cash.
Indiana’s three Republican National Committee (RNC) members wrote a letter to the organization approving any donations it makes to Banks’ campaign. They include Hupfer himself, political consultant Anne Hathaway and attorney John Hammond.
The RNC can’t contribute money or in-kind resources to anyone before a primary except if the candidate is unopposed — unless all of a state’s RNC members approve it in writing, according to the organization’s rules.
“Even if it’s just resources that don’t cost any money, (the RNC) can’t do it without our signature — like putting out digital media advances, putting out things on social media,” Hupfer told reporters Thursday. “Now they’re free to use all their resources.”
The party’s endorsement Thursday also drew criticism from Indiana’s Democratic Party.
“By clearing the primary field for Jim Banks, Indiana Republicans are embracing the most radical positions in their Party at the detriment of Hoosier voters,” Chair Mike Schmuhl said in a statement.
Schmuhl dinged Banks for his support for national-level restrictions on abortion and other culture war amendments in a recently passed defense bill. Schmuhl also critiqued Banks’ opposition to raising the country’s debt ceiling to avoid default, and his votes against major infrastructure and semiconductor legislation.
“Now more than ever, Hoosiers need a Senator that will stand up for common sense and work across the aisle to put aside the partisan games, and get results for Indiana. Jim Banks has proven he’s not the person for the job,” Schmuhl concluded.
The race shapes up
Bank faces no serious GOP challengers so far.
His campaign has by far raised the most cash, hauling in just over $1 million from April through June, according to his most recent Federal Election Commission (FEC) filing. And he reported raising $1.2 million in the three months prior.
John Rust, chair of a major egg farm, recently entered the race for the GOP nomination. Rust only filed a statement of organization with the FEC on July 1, just after the reporting period ended.
But because Rust doesn’t qualify to run as a Republican based only on his primary voting history, he needs additional approval from his county party chair. Hupfer said Thursday that Jackson Chair Amanda Lowery had indicated she would not approve his candidacy.
At least two other Republicans have filings online — Erik Benson and Anthony Tibbs — but have recorded no donations and no cash on hand.
The two most serious Democrat candidates for the seat include former state lawmaker and lobbyist Marc Carmichael and Keith Potts, a member of Indianapolis’ City-County Council.
All candidates will have to gather enough signatures to make the ballot.
The primary election is scheduled for May 7, 2024. The general election will follow on Nov. 5, 2024.