Will Shreve’s mayoral run proposals hurt his run for Congress?

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Businessman Jefferson Shreve has nearly the same campaign branding for his run in the 6th Congressional District’s Republican primary as he did in his 2023 race for mayor of Indianapolis: white block letters spelling his last name on a black background. 

While that visual branding mirrors his 2023 run for office, Shreve’s messaging as a candidate for Congress is not the same. The Storage Express founder in his run for the 6th District appears to have shifted his positions further to the right than what he presented to Marion County voters during his mayoral campaign. It’s a move that his opponents have criticized, specifically when it comes to his views on guns

Critics point to Shreve’s public safety proposal for Indianapolis presented during his mayoral run last July that, among several items, called for Indianapolis to strengthen its gun control measures. Nearly six months after his election loss by 20 percentage points to Democratic Mayor Joe Hogsett, Shreve’s congressional campaign website says the candidate will protect the Second Amendment and advocate for “policies that promote responsible gun ownership.” 

Gun rights advocates, including the National Rifle Association, have criticized the shift in Shreve’s views in the race for a congressional district that in 2022 voted heavily for Republicans, including Greg Pence, who is not seeking another term. The 6th District’s boundaries include the southern townships of Marion County and then stretches east to where Indiana touches the western border of Ohio.  

His shift demonstrates the change candidates can often make when pivoting between primary and general elections, but for Shreve’s whose loss was recent, it’s far more noticeable.

But some political watchers say Shreve might have a better chance at Congress than he did for mayor of Indianapolis. Voters in the rural communities in the 6th District outside of Indianapolis did not get to vote for Shreve and might not have paid as close attention to the race as the voters in southern Marion County, said Laura Wilson, an associate professor of political science at the University of Indianapolis

Shreve also has money and the ability to get his name and congressional messages out in a race that does not have an incumbent this time, Wilson said. Six other Republican candidates, including other businessmen and current and former state lawmakers, are running in the primary. The other candidates include Jamison Carrier, Darin Childress, Bill Frazier, John Jacob, Jeff Raatz and Mike Speedy.

More: With Greg Pence out, 7 Republicans vie for Indy-based 6th Congressional District

“It’s a more conducive environment for him as a Republican,” Wilson said. “Granted, it’s a primary with all Republicans who will have that same advantage but if you’re comparing it to November 2023, I think there are a lot of things he has going for him in this race that he simply did not before.”

In an emailed statement about his congressional campaign, Shreve emphasized that there is a difference between issues facing Marion County on the local level and federal rights for U.S. citizens. Shreve’s campaign staff declined IndyStar’s requests to speak with the candidate about his run for Congress ahead of May’s primary.

“I’ve always supported the 2nd Amendment that is enshrined in our U.S. Constitution,” Shreve said in the emailed statement. “Americans have the right to bear arms. I’m a gun owner. I believe in responsible, lawful gun ownership. I’ll defend the Constitution, including every amendment, at the federal level.” 

The gun shift

Shreve’s mayoral public safety plan, the one that turned the heads of both Republicans and Democrats, was presented to voters last summer just a few weeks after a fatal shooting over a weekend in Broad Ripple

The plan included proposals to hire a public safety director, recruit and retain more police, address the root causes of violent crime and allow Indianapolis to set stricter gun control measures, the latter of which state law does not allow cities to do.

Shreve said he would ask state legislators to raise the legal age to purchase guns from 18 to 21, ban the sale of assault weapons and repeal the ability to carry a handgun without a permit. The Indiana General Assembly passed that law in 2022

In his statements to IndyStar, Shreve said someone had to take on “entrenched interests” that have let crime “spin out of control” in Indianapolis. 

“Those failed policies are bleeding beyond the borders of Marion County and into Johnson, Shelby and Hancock counties — and beyond,” Shreve wrote. 

2023 Indy mayoral race: Republican mayoral candidate Shreve calls for stricter gun control in public safety plan

But his plan for public safety in deeply blue Marion County has followed Shreve to his congressional campaign. Despite Shreve’s messaging that he supports the Second Amendment, the NRA’s Political Victory Fund gave Shreve an F rating, the only 6th Congressional District Republican candidate rated that low. 

Randy Kozuch, chairman of the NRA-PVF, in a statement to IndyStar said those ratings are based on a candidate’s statements and positions on the Second Amendment. When Shreve ran for state senate in 2016, he received an AQ rating from the NRA, which is the highest rating a candidate without elected experience can receive. 

“Within the last year, Jefferson Shreve has called for banning certain firearms, raising the age for law-abiding adults to purchase firearms, and repealing Indiana’s constitutional carry law,” Kozuch said in the statement. “Jefferson Shreve has yet to publicly renounce his support for these blatantly unconstitutional gun control proposals and has demonstrated that he cannot be trusted to protect Hoosiers’ Second Amendment rights in Congress.”

Wilson, from the University of Indianapolis, said it’s surprising that Shreve’s opponents have not gone more negative about his mayoral campaign last year. 

“It feels like a really easy opportunity for someone like Speedy or anyone, quite frankly, to be like, ‘Look, he ran for a local executive office. Now he’s running for a congressional legislative office. He will just run for whatever is open and available,’” Wilson said. “That feels like a really easy hit to make and at least in terms of the paid media I have not seen people running ads on the basis of that.” 

6th District campaign

The gun issue facing Shreve is part of the challenge for Republicans that run for mayor of Indianapolis, said Jim Merritt, a former longtime Republican state senator, who ran against Hogsett and lost in 2019

Although state Rep. Speedy and former state Rep. Jacob ran in Statehouse districts that overlapped portions of Indianapolis, neither candidate has run for office across all of Marion County. 

Merritt represented Senate District 31 in Indianapolis when he served in the Statehouse. He now lives in Carmel, but recalled the major differences in constituents and issues between running for his senate district and running in a “dark blue” city: “It’s a completely different breed of cat.” 

“Pivoting from the state senate to the mayor’s race, I found myself talking about potholes,” Merritt said. “I found myself talking about public safety and how we need to help those that are families of victims.” 

For Guy Relford, an attorney focused on the Second Amendment and Indiana gun laws, the shift in Shreve’s policy positions is misleading. Shreve’s campaign website and emails say he was “attacked by the left for being pro-gun,” but he is leaving out the frustration from the Republicans who did not support his proposal, Relford said. 

Relford does not live in the 6th District, but said based on the last year he questions Shreve’s commitment to policies that support the Second Amendment at a time when issues about guns are frequently brought up in Congress. 

“If you’re an informed, thinking voter you have to have two concerns,” Relford said. “One is, how does he really feel about second amendment rights because he’s willing to do a 180 depending on what election he’s in. Secondly, can I trust this guy on any issue?” 

Despite that challenge, Shreve is still gaining support for his congressional campaign, including a $4.5 million donation to himself. His social media features photos from frequent political events and meetings. He recently was endorsed by the political arm of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and is the only candidate that group has endorsed in any primary race so far this year. 

“I’m a Republican and a conservative, and the broader 6th District is a Republican and conservative district,” Shreve said in his emailed statement. “I’m approaching this campaign by getting up every day and traveling the district. I’m meeting with residents, leaders, business owners, chambers of commerce, public safety professionals and health care leaders. I am listening. I’m immersed in the district, and that’s how I’ll serve when elected.” 

Early voting has started. Primary Election Day is May 7.

Contact IndyStar’s state government and politics reporter Brittany Carloni at brittany.carloni@indystar.com or 317-779-4468. Follow her on Twitter/X@CarloniBrittany.

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