Todd Young, Indiana’s senior senator, was one of just two new Republicans elected to that body in 2016, concurrent with Donald Trump’s surprise White House win. But if Young was generally a loyal supporter of Trump during his first two years in the Senate — ratings by FiveThirtyEight showed Young voting in favor of the president’s position nearly 93 percent of the time — his style has been more akin to former Indiana GOP Sen. Richard Lugar, for whom Young once worked. In a third of a century on Capitol Hill, Lugar established a reputation as a pragmatic conservative who frequently reached across the political aisle. Likewise, Young described himself as an “independent- minded, center-right conservative Republican” in a 2018 interview with the South Bend Tribune. “But I went to Washington to get things done. Typically, that requires developing strong relationships with your Democratic colleagues.” In fact, a think tank established by Lugar ranked Young among its Top 10 senators in its 2017 “Bipartisan Index,” which measures sponsorship of legislation with members of the other party. But Young may be faced with a political balancing act when he chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee during the 2020 cycle — a job in which he will be tasked with preserving the Senate GOP majority.
For much of the latter part of the 20th century, the Senate seat Young holds was occupied by two men: Democrat Birch Bayh and Republican Dan Quayle, both of whom went on to achieve national prominence. After that, control of the seat for nearly three decades shifted between two Hoosiers with close ties to either Bayh or Quayle: Dan Coats, who got his political start as a Quayle aide, and Evan Bayh, Birch Bayh’s son and a former governor. Young falls within this tradition: His wife is a niece of Marilyn Quayle, who is married to former Vice President Dan Quayle. And Young won in 2016 by thwarting Evan Bayh’s comeback bid in one of that year’s marquee Senate contests.
While Young was born in Lancaster, Pa., and spent his first 13 years outside Indiana, his family has ties to the Hoosier State stretching back five generations. His father owns a small heating and air-conditioning equipment business; his mother is a registered nurse. Young went to high school in Hamilton County, a well-to-do suburb of Indianapolis, where his prowess as a soccer player helped his school’s team win a state championship. He enlisted in the Navy after high school, and, a year later, received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, where he also played on the soccer team. Upon graduation, he opted for service in the Marine Corps, where he worked with drones doing reconnaissance work — including a stint fighting narcotics trafficking in the Caribbean.
Transferred to Chicago to oversee Marine recruiting, Young attended the University of Chicago’s business school at night, earning an M.B.A. while becoming a fan of free-market economist Friedrich von Hayek. Young went on to the University of London’s Institute for the Study of the Americas, where he received a second master’s degree and wrote a thesis on the economic history of Midwestern agriculture. Moving to Washington, he worked at the conservative Heritage Foundation and as a legislative assistant to Lugar. In 2004, Young returned to Indiana to work on the gubernatorial campaign of Republican Mitch Daniels.
While attending Indiana University’s law school at night, he met his wife, Jennifer Tucker Young. After Young earned his law degree in 2006, he and his wife went to work at a law firm established by her great-grandfather in the southern Indiana town of Paoli, commuting from nearby Bloomington. Now the parents of four children, they continue to reside in Bloomington — home of Indiana University’s main campus and an island of liberalism in a red state that has voted Democratic in only one presidential election in the past 50 years. “I’m a Bloomington conservative. My wife and I call it missionary work,” Young has joked on occasion.
In January 2009, Young announced plans to run for the House of Representatives seat held by Democrat Baron Hill, who was first elected in 1998. Young narrowly won a three-way primary that included former Rep. Mike Sodrel — who had ousted Hill in 2004, only to see Hill regain the seat two years later. In the 2010 fall campaign, Young attacked Hill as a rubber stamp for the Obama administration. Hill, a former high school basketball star in a hoops-crazy state, emphasized his Hoosier roots and characterized Young as an out-of-touch lawyer who had spent much of his career outside Indiana. In a year in which House Democrats lost more than 60 seats nationwide, Young ousted Hill 52%-42%.
Having cultivated ties to House leaders, Young was awarded a prized seat on the Ways and Means Committee at the beginning of his second term in 2013. The same year, he took over as lead sponsor of a key legislative initiative for Republican conservatives: the REINS Act, which would have given Congress oversight of federal regulations with economic effects exceeding $100 million. Unlike some of his more hard-line Class of 2010 colleagues, he supported the 2011 compromise to raise the debt limit, saying he wanted deeper spending cuts but that the measure “moves us in the right direction.” But, despite his desire to work with Democrats, Young at times utilized sharp rhetoric, once calling Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid “useless” and Reid’s House counterpart, Nancy Pelosi, “an irrelevant cheerleader for lost-cause liberalism.” He had a competitive re-election fight in 2012, defeating his Democratic opponent, Shelli Yoder, a former Miss Indiana who called for turning the region into a leader in clean energy, 55%-45%, but had little trouble winning a third term in 2014.
After the second of two separate stints in the Senate, Coats — who would go on to become the director of national intelligence in the Trump administration — announced his retirement in March 2015. Young, then 42, announced his bid to succeed Coats in July of that year. The state GOP establishment rallied around Young, and several other House Republicans opted to run for re- election after having eyed the Senate seat. But Rep. Marlin Stutzman, who had mounted a tea party- infused insurgency in the primary against Coats six years earlier, ran again. He charged that the “D.C. establishment” had selected Young “to play as their puppet.” Initially, it appeared Young’s prospects were complicated by the presence of another party establishment candidate: former state GOP Chairman Eric Holcomb. But Holcomb withdrew just days after the filing deadline, opting to become the running mate of then-Gov. Mike Pence.
In the May primary, Young overwhelmed Stutzman, 67%-33%, and seemed poised to cruise to victory against the Democrats’ candidate: Hill, his 2010 opponent. However, in July 2016, Evan Bayh — who earlier had turned aside entreaties to run again for the seat that he held from 1998 to 2010 — was persuaded to change his mind, and Hill stepped aside. Early public opinion polls showed Bayh with a 20-point lead, and national Democrats saw him as a shoo-in. But it didn’t take long for problems to surface for Bayh.
Unlike his father — author of the 25th and 26th amendments to the U.S. Constitution — the younger Bayh never appeared fully comfortable in the Senate. After forgoing re-election in 2010, he said he was fed up with congressional gridlock in an op-ed for The New York Times. Bayh said it was time for him to “contribute to society in another way.” By the end of the campaign, Young — aided by nearly $29 million from independent groups — had succeeded in reframing Bayh’s desire to contribute to society into a question of how much society had contributed to Bayh. The Democrat’s net worth had increased sixfold after he left the Senate, and he was put on the defensive by an Associated Press report disclosing he had had numerous conversations with head hunters and future corporate employers during his last year on Capitol Hill. The report noted Bayh was among a small group of Democrats who helped kill a tax increase on private equity gains. The increase was opposed by Apollo Global Management, with whom Bayh had met — and for whom he later went to work. Compounding the controversy was that, prior to publication of the AP report, Bayh told The Indianapolis Star he had not met with Apollo Global during that period.
Bayh’s ties to the state since leaving the Senate also came into question. His voter status had been classified as inactive. And, while asserting that he remained an Indiana resident, he was found to have rarely spent time at an Indianapolis condominium he owned — during a local television interview, he couldn’t recall the correct address of the residence. Such stumbles were symptomatic of Bayh’s apparent expectation that he could return to his old seat without major effort; he was unprepared for the rigors of a competitive campaign. By mid-October, some polls were showing the race had become a dead heat. Independent expenditure groups poured in $18 million in an effort to prop up his struggling candidacy. It wasn’t enough: The final returns gave Young a 52%-42% win.
Like his onetime boss Lugar, who took on Republican and Democratic presidents on foreign policy, Young has challenged the White House on that front — particularly on the war in Yemen. In December 2018, he was among just seven Republicans to join with all Senate Democrats to support a resolution withdrawing U.S. support for Saudi-backed forces in Yemen. Young, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, also authored legislation with the panel’s ranking Democrat, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, to suspend U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia because of that country’s efforts to prevent food and medical supplies from entering Yemen. Earlier, Young had put a hold on Senate confirmation of Trump’s choice for State Department legal adviser, which he lifted after Trump agreed to press the Saudis to lift their blockade of Yemeni ports — a tactic that had triggered concerns of widespread famine. “It offends my sensibilities — and I know it offends the sensibilities of all Americans — that there are countries in this day and age that are using food as a weapon of war,” Young told USA Today in late 2018. “And it further offends my sensibilities … that the United States has partnered with these countries.”
On domestic issues, perhaps Young’s most notable bipartisan legislative effort has been a bill authored with Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. The measure, which cleared the House and Senate at the end of 2018, requires federal agencies to report in their budget requests whether they acted on recommendations by federal auditors and inspectors for cost reductions and program improvements. Young contended that $90 billion in savings could result if such recommendations were followed. “Let’s face it: She’s sort of emblematic of the left,” Young told the South Bend Tribune: “I candidly wanted to send a message. I can work with anyone, anyone who wants to advance a good government agenda.”
Notwithstanding such bipartisan efforts, Young sought the highly partisan task of heading the NRSC for the 2020 election cycle and was chosen by the Senate GOP Caucus without opposition. “I’m really excited about the opportunity. … The committee did a lot to help my campaign back in 2016, and I think I can do a lot to make sure we defend and strengthen the Republican majority,” Young told the AP. He will face the challenging task of defending 22 Republican-held seats as the Democrats defends just 12 — with Trump on top of the ballot. In 2017, Young exhibited his independent streak when — in a move that put him at odds with Trump — he joined then-NRSC Chairman Cory Gardner of Colorado in calling on Roy Moore to step aside as the Republican Senate nominee in Alabama. It followed revelations of sexual advances toward teenage girls by Moore while in his 30s. “After giving Roy Moore ample time to unequivocally deny the disturbing allegations against him, those allegations remain far more persuasive than the denials,” Young tweeted. “The appearance of grossly reprehensible behavior disqualifies him from service in the United States Senate. If he does not step aside, we need to act to protect the integrity of the Senate.” — The Almanac of American Politics