AVON -- While campaigning for a U.S. House seat, Jim Baird and Tobi Beck visited each of the 16 county fairs in Indiana's 4th Congressional District. Fairs are good spots to hear from farmers.
This north central Indiana district is rich with agriculture, and the two candidates sense the impact that President Donald Trump’s tariffs might have on farmers. Helping to fuel a trade war over imports, China is retaliating with taxes on soybeans, steel and other products.
The race between Baird and Beck is among dozens across the country in the Nov. 6 election that could tip the balance of power in the House from Republicans toward Democrats. Currently, Republicans hold a 235-193 majority over Democrats, with seven seats currently vacant (five were most recently held by Republicans).
The issue of tariffs is central to many of the House races, particularly in the Midwest, where manufacturing and farming are key drivers of the economy.
The Washington D.C.-based Brookings Institution has estimated that about 2.1 million jobs in 40 U.S. industries will be impacted by Chinese retaliation.
In Indiana, Carroll County is expected to be the fifth-hardest hit county by the tariffs. Carroll, which is in the 4th District, has 1,853 jobs -- or 39 percent of the workforce -- expected to be affected.
Indiana, the fourth-largest producer of soybeans in the country, is starting to lose the market, said Beck, an Army veteran and security and technology professional.
She explained that farmers fear that Chinese taxes will lead to cancelled orders.
“When they cancel the order, they’re still going to consume soybeans but they’re going to pick a different market, they’re going to pick a different supplier,” said Beck, running as a Democrat for the seat.
“In some cases, farmers are not going to make enough money to buy next year’s seeds. But, ultimately, they’re going to have to change crops,” she said, noting that farmers would then have to buy equipment at higher costs because of the steel tariffs.
Running on the Republican ballot, Baird and his wife, parents of three, own real estate and agriculture businesses, as well as a healthcare agency. He's looking at tariffs with a wait-and-see approach.
Tariffs aren't long-term solutions, Baird said, but may be a tool in bringing China to the table to talk about free trade agreements.
Also, Baird would like to see stronger soil conservation efforts and risk management subsidies in the federal farm bill.
Their Congressional district is one of two among Indiana's nine that does not have an incumbent running.
The U.S. House seat for the 4th District is held by Todd Rokita, who did not seek re-election in May. Instead, he ran for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate and lost to businessman and former State Rep. Mike Braun.
In the primary, Baird beat Braun's brother, Steve, with 29,319 votes or 37 percent of the Republican tally among seven candidates.
In recent elections, the district has gone at least 60 percent Republican.
The Indiana Farm Bureau’s political action committee, ELECT, is endorsing Baird.
Beck struggles to cite any action by President Trump that she supports. But she noted that the president has spurred an interest in the structure of government and the U.S. Constitution.
"Trump’s presence has elevated a level of education among the average citizen. Lots and lots of adults are taking Civics 101 on their own now, things that they haven’t paid attention to since high school," Beck said.
Baird is more appreciative of Trump.
"I don't intend to be a rubber stamp," he said. "But, by the same token, I want to do what's right for people here in the district, what's right for this state."
Indiana's Fourth Congressional District includes Benton, Carroll, Cass, Clinton, Fountain, Hendricks, Jasper, Montgomery, Newton, Putnam, Tippecanoe, Warren, and White counties and parts of Boone, Howard and Morgan counties.