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Indiana state senate incumbents face few election challengers in upcoming primary races

The Indiana Senate Chamber during session on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024. (Photo by Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

INDIANAPOLIS (INDIANA CAPITAL CHRONICLE) — Although half of Indiana’s state senate seats are up for re-election in 2024, the races are so far dominated by an overwhelming number of incumbents — most of whom are running unopposed in the May primary.

In fact, there are only nine contested races out of 25 on May 7.

Just one senate incumbent did not file for re-election in 2024, marking the lowest number of retiring lawmakers in the chamber since at least 2010, according to the Indiana Secretary of State. 

The outgoing Sen. John Crane, R-Avon, assumed office in November 2016. In his Senate District 24 — which includes the Avon and Greencastle areas — Brett Clark and Anne Engelhardt are running to replace the retiring senator.

Members of the Indiana State Senate serve four-year terms and are not subject to term limits. Legislators assume office the day after their general election.

Republicans in the upper chamber currently have a 40-10 supermajority. It’s part of the GOP’s trifecta in the Hoosier state — the Republican Party controls the office of governor and both chambers of the state legislature.

Senate Democrats have remained a superminority for more than a decade, meaning that Republicans don’t need any of their colleagues from across the aisle present to conduct legislative business.

Republicans also control the fundraising fight in the Senate. Campaign finance reports filed Friday shows the Senate Majority Campaign Committee raised $190,000 so far this year and has $1.7 million cash on hand. The Indiana Senate Democratic Caucus, meanwhile, has raised only $32,000 and has $193,000 cash on hand.

Incumbents largely unopposed

Republican incumbents running unopposed in their respective senate district primaries include:

  • Sen. Ed Charbonneau, of Valparaiso, in Senate District 5
  • Sen. Ryan Mishler, of Mishawaka, in Senate District 9
  • Sen. Blake Doriot, of Goshen, in Senate District 12
  • Sen. Sue Glick, of LaGrange, in Senate District 13
  • Sen. Stacey Donato, of Logansport, in Senate District 18
  • Sen. Scott Baldwin, of Noblesville, in Senate District 20
  • Sen. Mike Crider, of Greenfield, in Senate District 28
  • Sen. Aaron Freeman, of Indianapolis, in Senate District 32
  • Sen. Cyndi Carrasco, of Indianapolis, in Senate District 36
  • Sen. Jean Leising, of Oldenburg, in Senate District 42
  • Sen. Eric Koch, of Bedford, in Senate District 44
  • Sen. Vaneta Becker, of Evansville, in Senate District 50

Meanwhile, four incumbent Democrat senators are running unopposed in their primaries:

  • Sen. Lonnie Randolph, of East Chicago, in Senate District 2
  • Sen. Fady Qaddoura, of Indianapolis, in Senate District 30
  • Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor, of Indianapolis, in Senate District 33
  • Sen. Shelli Yoder, of Bloomington, in Senate District 40

The only Democratic senators to be opposed are Sen. David Vinzant, of Gary in Senate District 3, which encompasses portions of Lake County and communities like Gary and Merrillville, as well as Sen. David Niezgodski, of South Bend, in northern Indiana’s Senate District 10.

Vinzant is being challenged by Mark Spencer, currently a Gary city council member and arts director for Gary Community Schools. 

The 3rd District Indiana Senate seat has been controlled by Democrats for decades. In January, Democratic leaders in the district chose Vinzant over Spencer to fill the seat after Eddie Melton resigned to become mayor of Gary. Melton has since expressed his support for Spencer in the Senate primary.

Republicans running in the District 3 primary are Maya Angelou Brown and Will Miller.

Niezgodski is running for a third term in the Senate and faces a challenge from St. Joseph County Treasurer Tim Swager. There are no Republicans running in the District 10 primary.

Democratic Sen. Jean Breaux, of Indianapolis, died last month following a prolonged illness that took her away from the entire 2024 legislative session.

Indianapolis City-County Councilor La Keisha Jackson won a caucus last week to fill Breaux’s remaining term. But because the seat was up for re-election, and Breaux was the only one appearing on the primary ballot, a second caucus will occur after May 7 and before July 3 to fill the November ballot vacancy for the four-year term.

Where Republicans face primary challengers

GOP senators in five districts do face competitors, though.

In Senate District 7, located northwest of Indianapolis, incumbent Sen. Brian Buchanan, R-Lebanon, is being challenged by Joseph Bookwalter.

In Northeast Indiana’s Senate District 16, Warner Electric commercial manager Scott Wise is challenging Sen. Justin Busch, R-Fort Wayne, who has held his position since 2018. Wise ran as a Libertarian for Indiana’s 3rd Congressional District seat in 2014 but was unsuccessful.

Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores, who entered the Indiana Senate in 2016, has two challengers — the most in any Senate Republican or Democrat primary races. Also running in northern Indiana’s Senate District 8 are Spencer England and Joe Layne.

England, a military veteran, said his priorities include more accessible care for veterans, protecting gun rights, combating illegal immigration and protecting parental rights. Layne’s platform largely focuses on protecting state’s rights, defending “traditional conservative values,” and promoting “a society where individuals and families can thrive, guided by faith, freedom and the principles that have made Indiana strong.”

Senate District 35, comprising the eastern edge of Hendricks County and southwestern Marion County, first-time Republican candidate Phillip Clay is challenging embattled Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis. Young is among the longest-serving lawmakers in the Statehouse, having served in the Senate for 24 years and in the House for 14 years.

The incumbent senator left the Senate Republican caucus in 2022 during a special session targeting abortion restrictions. He expressed concern in a letter about exceptions in the ban and also listed other reasons for his departure.

Since then, Young has lost his chairmanship of the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee and was later removed from the Senate Judiciary Committee because he did not attend meetings, according to the party leadership.

Additionally, Young’s longtime chamber seat surrounded by fellow Republicans was moved to the corner by the Democrats.

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, also has a challenger in the May primary.

The long-time incumbent has been in office since 2012, taking a seat that was held by his father for a number of years before. 

Jay Hart, a self-described “full-time advocate for conservative policy,” said he’s seeking the Senate District 37 seat to oust the senate pro tem because the district has not been well-represented since Bray took on the leadership role and maintains it’s time for someone new to enter office.

State senators seeking federal office

Another three state senators — all Republicans — are additionally seeking congressional seats. None of their state seats are up for re-election in 2024, giving them a fallback if unsuccessful in the primary or general elections.

In January, Republican Sen. Andy Zay, of Huntington, announced his run for Indiana’s 3rd Congressional District seat. It’s a crowded primary race with eight Republican primary candidates seeking to replace U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, who is leaving the position as he runs for Indiana’s open U.S. Senate seat.

During his eight-year tenure in the state senate, Zay has emphasized border security and a Catholicism-driven anti-abortion stance. He first assumed office in December 2016. His current term ends in November 2026.

Also in a deep pool of GOP candidates is Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, who is running against six other Republicans in the race for Indiana’s Sixth Congressional District seat.

Among the other candidates seeking the office are Jamison Carrier of Greenwood, Darin Childress of Richmond, Bill Frazier of Muncie, for state representative John Jacob of Indianapolis, Jefferson Shreve of Indianapolis and current Indiana Rep. Mike Speedy of Indianapolis. The winner of the race will face Columbus Democrat Cinde Wirth in the fall election.

Running for Indiana’s open Eighth Congressional District seat is Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper. The District 48 senator’s candidacy comes after U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon announced that he would not seek reelection for the seat and retire after the 2024 session.

Messmer has served in the Indiana General Assembly since 2008, serving as a member of the Indiana House of Representatives from 2008 to 2014 before being elected to the Indiana State Senate in 2014.

He previously was in leadership in the Senate but lost his posts after challenging current Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray in 2022.

This story was updated to correct the spelling of Sen. Eric Koch and remove an error about Randy Niemeyer.