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The Journal Gazette

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Congressman-elect Jim Banks holds his daughter Annie, 3, as he thanks supporters during the Republican election night party at the Hotel Fort Wayne on Tuesday night.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016 10:24 pm

Banks stresses bipartisanship

Brian Francisco | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Republican state Sen. Jim Banks appeared to have won more than 70 percent of the vote Tuesday to become the next congressman for northeast Indiana.

As expected in the GOP-dominated region, Banks romped past Democrat Tommy Schrader and Libertarian Pepper Snyder in each of the 3rd District’s dozen counties.

The Columbia City resident will replace third-term Republican Rep. Marlin Stutzman of Howe, who unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for an open U.S. Senate seat in the May primary election. By most appearances, Banks figures to be as fiscally and socially conservative as Stutzman has been.

He said Tuesday evening that he wants to apply "conservative principles to advance our country" and that his experience in a Republican-run state legislature "provides a road map that I hope to take to Washington." But he also said the nation’s problems require bipartisan answers from Congress.

"I want to be part of a new generation of representatives in Washington, D.C., who are solutions-oriented, who are focused on results and tackling the issues that face our nation," Banks, 37, said in a phone interview. "These aren’t partisan issues – a 19-and-a-half trillion dollar national debt was created by politicians from both parties. It’s going to take representatives from both parties to dig us out of that hole.

"Issues like rebuilding the military and addressing the national security issues that we face, that will take bipartisan support to accomplish," he said.

Banks’ easy victory was a foregone conclusion: Voting trends show that Indiana’s 3rd District is the most Republican of the state’s nine congressional districts. The region has been represented continuously by GOP lawmakers since 1995, and it typically gives the election winner at least 62 percent of the vote.

As a result of the partisan metrics – plus the fact that Democrats inexplicably nominated Schrader, an unemployed perennial candidate – Banks was able to run an upbeat, biography-driven campaign.

The commercial real estate broker played up his humble childhood, cute-as-a-button family and deployment to Afghanistan in 2014-15 as a member of the Navy Reserve – but made sure to let voters know that he supports religious liberty and tax cuts and opposes abortion rights.

"I’m very proud of the positive campaign that I’ve waged, both in the primary and in the general election. … I didn’t focus on my opponents in the primary, I didn’t focus on my opponents in the general election, I focused on issues and ideas to move the country forward. I believe that resonated in the midst of negative, nasty commercials for races all up and down the ballot," Banks said.

Banks received 77 percent of the vote in Kosciusko County and his home Whitley County, north of 74 percent in other counties and 65 percent in Allen County, by far the most populous of the 12 counties in the district.

The only mystery ahead of the ballot count was whether Snyder would siphon off Democrats and dramatically exceed 4 percent of the vote, which is what the Libertarian candidate received in the 2010 and 2014 elections.

She received about 7 percent Tuesday.

Snyder, 40, a benefit recovery specialist for Xerox, openly sought the backing of Democrats who had aligned with former progressive presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. She also courted some of Banks’ most ardent fans when she confidently faced a grilling by tea party Republicans at a candidates forum in Banks’ hometown.

Neither she nor Schrader, disowned long ago by his party’s organization, raised much money or ran TV ads. Banks, meanwhile, collected more than $1.6 million in campaign contributions and spent about $1.4 million, with much of it needed for his narrow victory in the six-candidate GOP primary election.

Schrader was pulling in 27 percent of the vote Tuesday in Allen County, but he was in the high teens in other counties. It appeared he would finish with about 22 percent.

Various conservative advocacy organizations issued congratulations to Banks on Tuesday night.

Former Indiana congressman David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth, said in a statement that Banks "is a proven fiscal conservative who will fight for a pro-growth agenda, and who will be an excellent Hoosier Congressman."

Adam Brandon, chairman of FreedomWorks, said Tuesday in a statement that Banks "is slated to join the ranks of the House Freedom Caucus" – the most conservative subgroup of congressional Republicans, which has included Stutzman – and "will fight for pro-growth economic solutions that will reduce tax burdens, cut spending, and slash the red tape that is strangling businesses."

bfrancisco@jg.net