Hoosier free-for-all? Spartz eyes Senate run in 2024 as Braun pursues gov race

Last updated on September 23, 2022

Rep. Victoria Spartz is telling fellow Republicans she plans to run for the Senate in 2024 if fellow Hoosier Sen. Mike Braun launches a gubernatorial bid, according to three Republicans familiar with her plans.

To some, her potential bid came as no surprise: A fourth Republican familiar with her thinking said the first-term, Ukrainian-born lawmaker has raised the idea of running for Senate since the early days of this Congress. But Spartz would bring political liabilities to a GOP primary, having frustrated her own party’s leaders with her handling of Russia’s war in Ukraine and taken heat for how she’s managed her Hill staff.

And other Republicans are likely to vie to succeed Braun, who has discussed his gubernatorial intentions with the Hoosier delegation. The senator would upend Hoosier politics should he pass on re-election — opening the door to competitive Republican primaries in barn-red Indiana on both the gubernatorial line and down-ballot races.

The governor’s mansion is wide open for 2024 with a term-limited incumbent in Gov. Eric Holcomb, and former two-term Gov. Mitch Daniels has not denied interest in seeking a third term. Eric Doden, a Fort Wayne businessman and former economic development appointee of then-Gov. Mike Pence, is the only declared gubernatorial candidate in the race, having raised more than $1.3 million since last year. Lt. Gov Suzanne Crouch is also said to be assembling a team to run for governor in 2024.

A Senate field, meanwhile, could include retiring Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, who has kicked the tires on a gubernatorial bid and talked with Braun about his future, according to a person familiar with Hollingsworth’s deliberations. And attorney General Todd Rokita, who lost to Braun in 2018, could also enter another Senate race.

Still, Spartz backers see her as a strong contender in the still-unofficial battle to succeed Braun.

“Rep. Spartz would consider running for Senate should Braun run for governor, and she would be well positioned to win the GOP nomination from a name identification, fundraising and ideological perspective,” one Republican close to her said, speaking on condition of anonymity about an undefined race as did others interviewed for this story.

Inside the Capitol, Spartz has struggled to find her footing. She’s faced massive staff-turnover, leading one nonpartisan group’s list of “Worst Bosses” in Congress as a result. More than a half-dozen former staffers raised concerns to POLITICO earlier this year about her tendency to berate and undermine aides. Her later response to these complaints in an interview with a local outlet: The staffers need to toughen up.

Spartz also has caused headaches for Republican leadership during Russia’s war on Ukraine, her birth country. At the outset of the Russian invasion, the GOP conference spotlighted Spartz’s emotional accounts from family and friends who were being bombarded in air raids. However, as the war progressed, she became an active critic of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy even as his defense against Moscow won worldwide support, including from most other Republican lawmakers.

A spokesperson for Spartz did not immediately return a request for comment.

In 2020, the conservative Club for Growth spent more than $3 million on her race. After a competitive general election matchup with Democrat Christina Hale, Indiana state lawmakers earlier this year redrew her suburban Indianapolis seat into more safely red territory.

Indiana used to be a Senate battleground, but those days may be over. Former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) lost a bid to rejoin the chamber in 2016, Braun defeated former Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) in 2018 and Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) is heavily favored to win reelection this fall.

And if Spartz joins the Senate GOP primary, that would also likely trigger a wide-open 5th Congressional District contest.

“It will be a great couple years for opposition research shops,” another influential Hoosier Republican operative said.