INDIANAPOLIS — The Republican field to succeed U.S. Sen. Dan Coats appears to be set, with two sitting Indiana congressmen and a former state GOP chairman vying to keep the seat in GOP hands.
But one candidate, U.S. Rep. Todd Young, is attempting to leverage both his early fundraising lead and the spectacle that is Donald Trump to gain an early advantage over rivals U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman and former state GOP chair Eric Holcomb.
Young will air ads across Indiana laden with political red meat during Wednesday's Republican presidential primary debate, which is expected to draw a massive GOP audience.
"We feel fortunate to be in a financial position where we can already think about doing strategic media buys," said campaign manager Trevor Foughty, referring to a $2 million campaign fund balance Young posted at the end of June.
Political observers say the move is politically shrewd and could give Young, who represents southern Indiana, early name recognition among Republican voters statewide.
"I really do think it's a good move," said former Fort Wayne Mayor Paul Helmke, who narrowly won a three-way Republican primary in a 1998 U.S. Senate campaign. "Almost every Republican in Indiana is going to be watching."
Helmke, now a professor of public affairs at Indiana University, says all three GOP candidates lack name recognition because they come from different areas of the state. "The challenge is for all of them to get out beyond their base," he said.
The 30-second spot is costing $10,000 to air and will appear in media markets across the state, according to Young's campaign. In the ad, Young strikes familiar GOP themes, touting his anti-abortion stance and military service while vowing to reform the tax code and "repeal Obamacare once and for all."
Young could be using the ads to put early distance between himself and Eric Holcomb, a former state party chairman who worked in Gov. Mitch Daniels' administration and as former state chief of staff for Coats. Both candidates have ties with the Republican Party establishment, while Stutzman is popular among tea party supporters.
Because of their establishment connections, Holcomb could siphon votes away from Young, said Andy Downs, an associate professor of political science at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.
"Conventional wisdom would be he's doing more damage to Young than to Stutzman," said Downs, who cautioned that the race is still in its infancy and a lot can change.
Young's rivals are reacting coolly to the ad buy.
"We're focused on running our race," said Brendon Del Toro, campaign manager for Stutzman, who posted $850,000 in his campaign fund at the end of June. "Hoosiers want a proven, tested conservative and that's Marlin's substance."
Holcomb spokesman Pete Seat says many are misreading the political landscape. Both current state schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz and former Republican senate candidate Richard Mourdock toppled better-funded rivals, Seat said.
"We will have the resources necessary," Seat said of Holcomb, who posted $332,000 in June. "Money doesn't equal success."