Friday, March 1, 2024

Indiana Dems in Tizzy as Black GOP Candidate Threatens to Flip Blue Stronghold

'If I was who I was without any thoughtful leadership or character attached to it, I would not be effective in this role...'

(Headline USA) After a lunchtime roundtable with Indiana Sen. Todd Young and Utah Rep. Burgess Owens, Republican congressional candidate Jennifer-Ruth Green suggested she appreciated “serving alongside my peers.”

“Not my peers,” she quickly corrected. “I misspoke.”

Green isn’t their congressional colleague yet, but her slip might not be all that premature.

Democrats have represented this industrial, union-friendly corner of northwest Indiana in Congress for nearly a century. But Democratic Rep. Frank Mrvan’s reelection bid is in question as the party faces headwinds around the U.S. this year, buffeted by President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings and high inflation.

With Democrats continuing to gaslight voters while disregarding the core kitchen-table issues affecting most families in favor of Ukraine and Roe v. Wade, Republicans see an opportunity to end the nearly 50-year chokehold that the party has held on many minority voters since the 1960s.

Black conservative candidates like Green and Owens are leading the way, using Christian values as the springboard for reaching into communities ravaged by crime and poverty under years of Democrat-dominated governance.

The contours of Green’s Indiana district, encompassing Gary, have been redrawn to be slightly more friendly to Republicans. Green, meanwhile, offers a compelling biography that includes 20-plus years of Air Force service. She’s still active in the Indiana Air National Guard.

If elected, she would be the only black Republican woman serving in the House—and just the second black Republican woman in history elected to the chamber.

Republicans say they’re breaking party records for diversity, with 80 women who are House incumbents or candidates on midterm ballots nationwide. The GOP also has 28 Black nominees, 33 Hispanic Americans, 13 Asian Americans and three American Indians running, according to the National Republican Campaign Committee, the party’s House campaign arm.

And, of the 74 districts the committee is targeting for victory, 24 GOP candidates are military veterans. In all, 125 Republican House incumbents and challengers say they have military experience, compared to 61 Democrats, according to the Pew Research Center.

“I’m grateful that that’s a demographic that, when you look at polling, everything works,” Green, who was stationed in Iraq as a captain and identifies as both black and Asian, said of her embodying backgrounds her party has prioritized.

But she added, “If I was who I was without any thoughtful leadership or character attached to it, I would not be effective in this role.”

Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer says that, when he became head of the National Republican Campaign Committee in 2018, he sought to empower members of Congress to recruit strong candidates in their states.

“The goal is not so much to diversify, as we wanted to identify candidates from communities [where] we want Republicans represented,” Emmer said.

AP VoteCast, a survey of the national electorate, shows that 86% of Donald Trump’s voters in the 2020 presidential election were white, compared to 63% of Joe Biden’s voters. Nineteen percent of Biden voters were black, while just 2% of Trump voters nationwide were.

In Indiana, the percentages of black voter support for each were the same, 19% to 2% in favor of Biden.

With the GOP beginning to whittle away at the margins, though, Democrats have loaded up on race-baiting rhetoric to try to scare and shame black voters back into the fold.

Tellingly, the Congressional Black Caucus, which states as its core purpose to promote and support minority candidates, endorsed Green’s white, male opponent in the race.

Emmer balked at such attacks, saying Democrats want “to talk about anything but the issues that matter most.”

He predicted victory for Jennifer-Ruth Green in Indiana, despite the district being Democratic since 1931. It elected Mrvan for the first time in 2020, and backed Biden by nearly 9 percentage points.

Though the new maps make the district slightly more Republican, a Green win would nonetheless be an early sign of a strong election night for the GOP.

Even Green supporters aren’t sure that’ll happen, however. While she was knocking on doors last weekend in Munster, near Indiana’s border with Illinois, Susan and Bart Cashman spotted her and hurried over to chat. They’re both Green supporters but cautioned that the area remains deeply blue.

“It’s Lake County, so, we don’t know,” Susan Cashman said.

Their county includes Gary, where nearly 80% of residents are black. The city, known as the hometown of Michael Jackson and his family, saw unemployment spike in the 1970s with the closing of many area steel mills. It has experienced rising violent crime more recently.

Green won a crowded Republican House primary as a Trump supporter and is a frequent Fox News guest. She said her campaign can keep the race with Mrvan tight by capturing 20% support from black voters.

“We’ll have the opportunity to tell people, ‘Hey, this is where we are. Is it producing good opportunity for you?'” she said of her pitch to black voters. “‘Or do you want something different?’”

Former Utah Rep. Mia Love was elected in 2014 as the House’s first black Republican woman but lost four years later. The chamber now has just two black Republican men, Florida Rep. Byron Donalds and Owens, who attended the Gary roundtable with Green.

“What Jennifer represents are American values,” Owens said of the possibility of Green becoming the GOP’s second black female House member. “I think that actually really overcomes all the other stuff.”

Darquia and Gordon Biffle co-own Big Daddy’s barbeque in Gary and hosted the recent roundtable. They said inflation has increased the price of a case of fries from $17 to as high as $29.

“Even all the help we got, that all got flushed down the toilet as we tried to keep our workers,” Gordon Biffle said of COVID-19 federal aid. “Whether it’s Democrat or Republican, we’ve got to side with the people that’s going to help us.”

Former Indiana state lawmaker Charlie Brown, a Democrat from Gary, noted that Green doesn’t mention party affiliation on many of her campaign materials, which he said may “fool” some black voters into supporting her without knowing she’s a Republican.

Green’s bumper stickers and yard signs feature military-looking star insignia and don’t list party. Her fliers promise “battle-proven leadership,” middle-class tax cuts and protections for Social Security and Medicare without mentioning the GOP.

Mrvan’s yard signs are emblazoned with “Democrat,” and he has been endorsed by area unions. During the United Steel Workers convention this summer, he pointed to outside conservative political groups spending big to oppose him in the district and said, “I’m under attack because I stand for working men and women.”

Mrvan rallied Monday in Gary with House Majority Whip James Clyburn, the highest-ranking black member of Congress. New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, has also visited the district.

That the two top-ranking Democratic black men in the House felt compelled to visit the district in flyover country may signal just how great a threat Green represents.

It’s “pretty obvious that the Democratic machine even has some concerns for Mrvan,” said Brown, the former state lawmaker—especially given ”this factor involving an African-American female Republican,” he added.

“Usually, people yawn over that because they know this has been a Democratic stronghold for years and years,” Brown said of the congressional election. “But, they’ve got to be aware, that this is somewhat different this time.”

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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