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Thomas M. McDermott Jr.

Thomas M. McDermott Jr.

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What a difference two years can make. In 2020, Thomas McDermott Jr., the fifth-term mayor of Hammond whose father held the same office for two terms previously, seemed destined for Capitol Hill. With veteran Congressman Pete Visclosky's announcement that he would not run for reelection, McDermott quickly became the favorite to succeed him.

A graduate of Purdue University and the University of Notre Dame Law School, McDermott was endorsed for the House seat by former Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a presidential candidate in 2020. McDermott criticized the excessive partisanship in Congress, which had become “dysfunctional,” he said. “I want to change the culture in Washington D.C.”  That news story described McDermott as the front-runner, given his earlier plan to challenge Visclosky in the 2020 Democratic primary. “I’m way ahead of the game as far as any other opponents that are going to run against me,” he said.

McDermott was the leading spender in the Democratic primary, with $630,000, which more than doubled that of his main challenger for the nomination Frank Mrvan, a township trustee whose father was an Indiana state senator representing Lake County. The Almanac of American Politics described it as a "battle of entrenched family dynasties'' -- which despite McDermott's head start and fundraising advantage, Mrvan ultimately won on his way to winning election to Congress.

McDermott returned to Hammond and embarked on a new, less conventional path, co-hosting a podcast that, according to a Post Tribune of Northwest Indiana profile, "isn’t a polished, politically correct marketing strategy to make McDermott look good twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. The podcast instead amplifies personal attributes that created McDermott’s political persona – outspoken, opinionated and divisive while revealing a rare elected official who curses publicly like he’s in a backroom poker game. Again and again, like a stereotypical U.S. Navy veteran, which he is.''

'“You can say whatever the hell you want,” McDermott told viewers in the first minutes of his first show. “We can talk about whatever we want.” And he does.

'“The only thing I have to worry about is my political career,' McDermott said."

In 2022, that career has taken McDermott to a more ambitious run -- a long-shot run for the U.S. Senate against first-term Republican incumbent Todd Young, undertaken with the iconoclasm to which his podcast listeners had become accustomed. He coasted past underfunded, less known challengers for the Democratic nomination, but ran into a formidable candidate in Young, who The Indianapolis Star pointed out in mid-October fundraising update had $5.5 million in campaign cash on hand compared to McDermott's $397,000, a signal, The Star reported, that the Senate seat was not seen as one in play.

Despite -- or perhaps because of -- his disadvantage, McDermott has not played it safe. Calling for federal legalization of marijuana, McDermott aired a campaign ad -- produced in Illinois, where cannabis is legal -- in which he is seen smoking a joint. A Star profile of Young as a well-prepared candidate who never goes off script pointed out the contrast with McDermott, "a Democrat who smoked marijuana in a campaign ad and isn't afraid to make somewhat crass jokes.'' After the only debate between the Senate candidates with only a few weeks left in the campaign, The Star's James Briggs -- in a column headlined "Indiana Democrats aren't competing to win" -- focused on McDermott's uneven performance, saying it reflected the fundamental challenge facing Democrats in an increasingly Republican-dominated political landscape. -- The Indiana Citizen