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Friday, April 01, 2016 6:25 am

Choice for Young 'overwhelming'

Brian Francisco | Washington editor

The decision to endorse Rep. Todd Young, R-9th, rather than Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, for a Senate seat was "overwhelming," representatives of the Indiana and U.S. Chambers of Commerce said Thursday.

"It was a landslide. Overwhelming. Not one member reached out to me in support of Marlin Stutzman. And I think that’s telling," Rob Engstrom, national political director for the U.S. Chamber, said in Fort Wayne.

He said the business advocacy organization’s public affairs committee, which numbers about 60 people, made the endorsement for Indiana’s May 3 Republican primary election.

Caryl Auslander, a vice president for the Indiana Chamber, said Young and Stutzman met twice each with that group’s congressional affairs committee, which has three dozen members.

"And the vote was overwhelming. Todd Young was the candidate for us," Auslander said.

Auslander, Engstrom and Young had a news conference at Fort Wayne Metals as part of a two-day media blitz across the state to endorse Young.

Engstrom said Stutzman’s criticism this week of the endorsements was "sour grapes" as Stutzman had met with him and sought the U.S. Chamber’s backing.

Stutzman said Thursday in an email that "it should come as no surprise to Hoosiers that these groups would endorse a moderate establishment candidate like Todd Young" because of the groups’ moderate stances on education, religious freedom, immigration and federal spending.

"It is clear the Washington DC insiders and crony capitalists are circling the wagons to save establishment Todd Young because I am winning this race," Stutzman said.

The winner of the GOP primary will face Democrat Baron Hill, whom Young unseated from the House in 2010, in the November general election.

The U.S. Chamber filed an independent expenditure report Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission showing it is spending $1 million on TV, radio and digital media advertisements in support of Young.

"This is a race that is critically important to us, and we’re going to do everything we can to ensure that Todd Young is the next senator. … I would say that this is a top-tier priority race for us," Engstrom said Thursday.

He called the congressman from Bloomington "a consistent constructive conservative who is laser-focused on governing and getting things done. He has a track record of doing that."

Engstrom praised Young’s opposition to the federal Affordable Care Act and regulatory "overreach" by the White House and his support for cyber­security legislation.

Howe resident Stutzman also has opposed the health care law and numerous business regulations. He voted last year against legislation to extend liability protections to companies that share cyber threat data with the federal government.

"I pledge to continue growth-friendly policies in the United States Senate," Young said. "I am a Hoosier conservative. That does involve rolling up one’s sleeves and doing the hard work of legislating, not just talking about being a conservative. Heck, anyone can do that."

The Indiana Chamber has advocated for the General Assembly to expand civil rights protections to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people. Young was asked by a reporter to state his position.

"I am a strong defender of religious liberty. I also believe that Hoosiers don’t discriminate," he said. "At the federal level we’ve worked hard to strike that balance between those two competing values, and we’ve been able to make sure that there is very little conflict. Wherever there is, it’s up to the courts to referee those disputes."

Asked whether the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 does enough to cover civil rights, Young said, "I think it’s worked well."

Stutzman’s campaign referred to his February commentary, published by The Journal Gazette, in which Stutzman argued that the political left, the media and corporate interests are trying "to reduce the influence of Christianity on our culture and replace faith and family with consumerism and nanny-state government."

Although his opinion piece was not expressly about Indiana’s debate over whether businesses should be allowed to use their religious beliefs to deny services to gays, Stutzman made references to it and people "who advocate limits on religious speech."

Young and Stutzman are scheduled to attend a Republican Party luncheon today in Kendallville where the retiring senator whose seat they seek – Dan Coats – will be honored.

Young is scheduled to be at a fundraising reception this evening at the Fort Wayne Country Club.

The 20 people who are listed as hosts include Fort Wayne Metals CEO Scott Glaze, Lutheran Hospital CEO Brian Bauer, Fort Wayne City Councilman John Crawford and former state lawmakers Tom Wyss and Matt Bell.