Rep. Larry Bucshon, an Indiana Republican who flipped a once-competitive seat during the 2010 GOP wave, announced Monday that he would not seek an eighth term this year. The 8th District, which is based in the southwestern part of the state, favored Donald Trump 65-33 in 2020, so the winner of the May 7 GOP primary should have no trouble holding it. The candidate filing deadline is Feb. 9.
The 8th District, which was once nicknamed “The Bloody 8th” for its history of regularly ousting incumbents, was anything but a Republican bastion when Bucshon first sought it more than a decade ago.
Buchson, a political newcomer and physician who led a large regional cardiology practice, even began his race as the underdog when he decided to challenge two-term Democratic Rep. Brad Ellsworth: John McCain had managed to win the constituency just 51-47 in 2008, as Barack Obama was becoming the first Democratic presidential nominee to carry Indiana since 1964, and Ellsworth had won reelection that year 65-35.
That Bucshon-Ellsworth contest never materialized, however. Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh shocked the political world by announcing his retirement in February of 2010, prompting his party to quickly consolidate behind the conservative Ellsworth as a replacement. Democrats back in the 8th supported state Rep. Trent Van Haaften to defend the now-open seat, while Bucshon still had to get through a busy primary.
Bucshon had the support of the national GOP establishment but faced a challenging nomination battle against state Rep. Kristi Risk, who was closer to tea party groups. Bucshon won that contest by a close 33-29 spread, but it turned out to be the only race he’d have to sweat that year.
The Obama administration’s unpopularity proved to be a burden that many Hoosier State Democrats could not overcome. While conservative outside groups spent money in the 8th’s general election, their Democratic counterparts turned their attention elsewhere. Bucshon beat Van Haaften in a 58-37 landslide, while Ellsworth badly lost his bid to succeed Bayh to once-and-future Sen. Dan Coats.
The new congressman wasn’t quite safe yet at home, however. In 2012, Democrats fielded former state Rep. Dave Crooks in a seat that, despite a new GOP gerrymander, would have favored McCain by a slightly smaller 51-48 spread compared with the old lines. First, though, Bucshon had to go through a primary rematch against Risk, though this time he defeated her by a considerably wider 58-42 margin.
Major outside groups on both sides this time spent serious sums on the general election, though the GOP still enjoyed a large advantage. Crooks, however, struggled, as the Obama campaign, despite its miraculous win four years earlier, essentially conceded Indiana’s electoral votes to Republican nominee Mitt Romney. The GOP presidential nominee carried the 8th 58-40, while Bucshon prevailed by a smaller 53-43 spread.
While Democrats continued to hope that the Bloody 8th would eventually live up to its nickname even after it backed Trump 65-31 in 2016, the incumbent’s remaining races proved to be anticlimactic. Democrats made several attempts to recruit former Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel, but Bucshon instead beat a series of underfunded foes with ease. A significant portion of the GOP primary electorate, however, remained uneasy with their congressman. But while Buchson won less than two-thirds of the vote in his primaries in both 2016 and 2018, he never came close to losing renomination.