Is it possible to be too conservative for Indiana? The Stutzman-Young Senate primary might just tell us

(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

If you run for office as a conservative, do you have to be careful not to seem too conservative, even here in Indiana? That seems to be the tightrope Rep. Todd Young, R-9th, is trying to walk in his primary election fight against Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, for the Senate seat being vacated by Dan Coats.

Stuzman is going full-out conservative, getting endorsements from the Tea Party group FreedomWorks and the conservative Club for Growth and by the Senate Conservatives Fund. Young has racked up endorsements from scores of local, state and federal officeholders, and he just picked up the nod from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. That screams “establishment.”

Who has chosen the more likely path to victory?

Many Republicans hope for — and many Democrats fear — a primary win by Young, thinking he would have a better shot at beating Democrat Baron Hill than the “extremist” Stuzman. They’re using the 2012 primary fight between Richard Mourdock and Richard Lugar as their template. The ultraconservative Mourdock beat the more moderate Lugar, then got trounced by Democrat Joe Donnelly in the general election.

But as we’ve written here before, this is not 2012, and Marlin Stutzman is no Richard Mourdock, who was a flawed candidate with a tendency to put his foot in his mouth and had no record in Washington. Stutzman is a very articulate conservative with a proven conservative record in Congress.

At one time, we would have said the thing to gauge, in assessing this race, is how Hoosier Republicans feel about the tensions in Washington between establishment and anti-establishment forces over the direction of the Republican Party.

But that was before the ascendancy of front-running presidential candidate Donald Trump and the fervor of many of his followers. Now the fight is among Republicans who want to support the establishment, Republicans who want to change it and Republicans who want to blow the whole thing up.

It’s an evolving, dynamic political culture, both in Washington and in Indiana, so we could not begin to predict which candidate the Zeitgeist will favor.

But this is certainly the most interesting primary to watch in May. The outcome will tell us a lot about where the GOP and the country might be headed.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association.