COLUMBIA CITY – Sen. Marlin Stutzman, R-Howe, bested 14 other candidates to win the 3rd District Republican congressional nomination Saturday in a surprisingly swift two ballots.
"Moving forward, this is going to take all of us in this room," he told the 400 precinct committee members who had gathered at Indian Springs Middle School in Columbia City.
"We cannot let (Nancy) Pelosi pick off the third district. If all of us band together, we can win on Nov. 2."
Stutzman will likely face Democrat Tom Hayhurst on two fall ballots Nov. 2. One will be a special election to fill the remainder of former U.S. Rep. Mark Souder's term, which runs through Jan. 3, and the other will be for a new two-year term that starts after that.
Hayhurst is expected to be chosen as the Democratic nominee in the special election this week.
Souder resigned last month after admitting an extra-marital affair.
Indiana Republican Party Chairman Murray Clark opened the event by acknowledging the frustration many people have with Souder.
"We meet today under circumstances not of our choosing," he said. "But you can help the Republican Party keep its head held high and avoid further disruption."
He also said he was confident the seat would stay in GOP hands.
Stutzman took a commanding lead on the first ballot, earning 180 votes out of 406 that were cast.
His closest contender was Rep. Randy Borror, R-Fort Wayne, with 67 votes. Fort Wayne City Councilwoman Liz Brown earned 46 votes; news anchor Ryan Elijah received 43 and businessman Bob Thomas rounded out the top five with 21 votes.
Ten candidates were immediately eliminated because they failed to receive at least 5 percent of the votes.
Only a few caucus voters left before a second ballot, even though it took party officials more than an hour to count the first-round votes.
On the second ballot, Stutzman vaulted to the win with 229 votes. Borror finished second with 69.
Stutzman's victory on that ballot sealed his nomination as the GOP's choice in the special election. A second vote on who will take Souder's place on the general election ballot was a formality, and Stutzman received 268 votes.
This year, Stutzman ran against Dan Coats in the May primary to represent Republicans in the U.S. Senate race. He finished second but gained the respect of many GOP voters with his solid showing.
"I'm tired of running against Republicans," Stutzman joked after celebrating with his wife and two sons. "They're my friends, and we have the same goals. I'm looking forward to us banding together as a party."
Borror said later that he was glad he ran even though he was disappointed in the final result.
"I met people from Ashley to Elkhart," he said. "But in this big a district, it's difficult to manage this process."
Precinct committeemen and committeewomen from eight counties participated. More than 100 who were eligible to vote didn't attend.
For weeks, the prospective voters have been deluged by phone calls, impromptu candidate visits, letters and mailers.
"I could probably wallpaper my bathroom with the amount of material I've gotten," said Jane Colby from LaGrange County.
She voted for Stutzman after speaking to friends and neighbors in her precinct. She said she wanted a candidate with two key qualities. The first was someone willing to work with Democrats to find solutions that are best for the country. The second was someone who could raise money and get out the vote in the fall.
Before the voting, each candidate had someone give a nomination speech, and then the candidate spoke for three minutes.
Dennis Wright appeared to anger some voters when he referred to Elijah as an "inexperienced local celebrity" and said other candidates were "career politicians looking to move up the ladder."
Thomas, who ran against Souder in the primary and lost, reminded voters that he earned 27,000 votes just weeks ago.
"Nobody else on this platform can say that," he said. "Where were all these civic leaders four months ago when it was tough? When you had to go up against a tough incumbent?"
The full slate of candidates included Rep. Wes Culver, R-Goshen, Lonnie Powell, Greg Dickman, Rachel Grubb, Richard Thonert, Scott Welsh, Bob Morris, Dennis Wright and Joe Schomburg.