Jim Banks was elected to an open seat following a competitive primary contest. He brought extensive experience in the Navy Reserve plus support from national conservative groups, and focused chiefly on national security issues.
Banks was born and continued to reside in Columbia City, not far from Fort Wayne. He graduated from Indiana University, where he was president of College Republicans, and got an MBA at Grace College and Seminary. He worked as a real estate broker with the Bradley Co. in Fort Wayne. Elected to the state Senate in 2010, where he claimed the most conservative record, he chaired the Veterans Affairs and the Military Committee. He invoked a state law to take a leave of absence in 2014, while he served for eight months at NATO headquarters in Afghanistan, where he assisted with equipment for the Afghans. He received the Defense Meritorious Service Medal for his military leadership. During that time, his wife, Amanda Banks, was appointed acting state senator.
When Rep. Marlin Stutzman announced that he was running for the open Senate seat in 2016, Banks staked out ground among conservative advocacy groups. His political consultant told Banks that he needed to become “less wonky” during the campaign, according to a story in GQ. “You don’t need to impress people with your intellect,” the consultant told him. Affiliates of the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund spent more than $700,000 on his behalf. Brown raised $1.1 million for the primary, compared with $992,000 for farmer Kip Tom, and $338,000 for Elizabeth Brown, a veteran Fort Wayne elected official. He won the primary with 34 percent to 32 percent for Tom and 25 percent for Brown. David McIntosh, the head of the Club for Growth who during the 1990s served in an earlier version of this district, made the election of Banks a top priority and took credit for playing a “pivotal role” in the victory. In the general, Banks defeated Tommy Schrader, a perennial Democratic candidate, 70%-23%.
On the Armed Services Committee, Banks said that his objective was to “ensure our men and women in uniform receive the resources they need to protect our nation.” In 2017, he filed a bill to authorize the use of force against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). “The Constitution grants Congress the power of declaring war, and we need to take that obligation seriously,” Banks said. “Rather than continuing to fight ISIS under an authorization passed by Congress in 2001 to fight al-Qaeda, it is time to pass a new authorization for the use of military force against ISIS.” Sen. Todd Young of Indiana filed a companion measure in the Senate, though Congress took no action.
Banks made other attempts to call for discipline in the nation’s foreign policy. Following the friendly meeting in Helsinki in July 2018 between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, he warned, “Russia is not our friend.” Banks unsuccessfully urged Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to cancel a visit to Saudi Arabia that October “until the world receives answers” about the apparent murder of journalist and activist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. As the top Republican on the Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Technology Modernization, he reviewed the costly upgrade of VA medical records.
The political challenge for Banks eased when he won reelection in 2018 without a Republican primary. Democrat Courtney Tritch, who ran a marketing firm, spent nearly as much as the $1.1 million by Banks. The incumbent took all 12 counties and won, 65%-35%, including 56 percent of the vote in the population center of Allen County. — The Almanac of American Politics