Melba Lara: The 1st congressional district in Northwest Indiana has been a Democratic Party stronghold for nearly a century. But a Republican Black woman is looking to make history by flipping it in next week's election. WBEZ's Michael Puente reports that she'll need Gary's help to do it.
Michael Puente: The city of Gary is known for steel mills, the birthplace of Michael Jackson and a number of firsts for Black politicians. It was among the first large cities in America to elect a Black mayor and Indiana's first Black person elected to Congress, a woman, also came from here. Political fortunes often rest on how this predominantly Black city votes and it's usually for Democrats. Jennifer-Ruth Green wants to make history of her own, by becoming the state's first Republican Black woman elected to Congress. The Air Force veteran's ads taking aim at incumbent Democrat Frank Mrvan have been playing for weeks now.
GREEN AD: Frank Mrvan votes with Nancy Pelosi 99% of the time. Fire Frank Mrvan now...
Michael Puente: Polls show a dead heat between her and Mrvan. Green is pro business, anti abortion rights and supports former President Donald Trump her campaign has raised nearly $3 million to Mrvan's $2.2 million according to the Federal Election Commission. Green declined to be interviewed, but her supporters like Will Miller are speaking up for her.
Will Miller: She's a special young lady and she's given a lot for her country and that has touched a number of Gary residents because honestly African American people, and a lot of minorities, are underdogs. And she's an underdog in this race.
Michael Puente: Miller is a Gary resident who teaches at a local community college. He says he's back in Green because she's listening to the people.
Will Miller: It's one thing to be conservative. It's another thing to listen, and she does that very well.
Sharon Mallory: Gary always plays a very important part in any of the political arenas here in Indiana. But I think specifically so in this particular race.
Michael Puente: Wealth management advisor Sharon Mallory, another Green supporter, hopes residents vote for something different to turn around the city's slumping economy and decades of population decline.
Sharon Mallory: People I believe in Gary are sick and tired of being sick and tired. They have a lot of allegiance to the Democratic Party for whatever reason. And so it's going to be a matter of whether or not people are taking the opportunity to hear Jennifer-Ruth Green.
Michael Puente: At J's Breakfast Club in Gary, comments from diners like Lawrence Parsons, show just how difficult it will be for Green to win votes here.
Lawrence Parsons: She just another Trump pawn and I don't think has the concern of women as a whole.
Michael Puente: Retired steelworker Maurice W. Gibson says while Mrvan is white, he spent years helping poor people in his former role as a township trustee. He says, Mrvan also knows that steel jobs continue to be a priority for this region.
Maurice W. Gibson: I've been a union man all my life. And Frank is for the union. A lot of that foreign steel coming in here. Frank is against that. So I'm for Frank.
Michael Puente: Mrvan who is pro abortion rights and came into office two years ago says he doesn't like how the race has turned negative.
Frank Mrvan: I am not surprised, but I'm disappointed in it. I specifically focused on policy differences and what we have accomplished. My opponent likes to spend a lot of time on national news stations and tweeting.
Michael Puente: Mrvan has backed much of President Joe Biden's initiatives, including money to protect the environment and to help the Gary, Chicago airport and Gary Police Department. But he says he knows folks in his district are hurting with rising food and gas prices. Despite the Democrats long winning streak here. Mrvan says he's taking nothing for granted.
Frank Mrvan: I was born and raised in the region and I understand the region. I believe my opponent is a national candidate, and has no roots, and has not been born and raised here.
Michael Puente: Green has received endorsements from former Trump appointees, but she was angered by the Congressional Black caucus not backing her potentially historic candidacy. Instead, they're backing Mrvan. Michael Puente, WBEZ News.
WBEZ transcripts are generated by an automatic speech recognition service. We do our best to edit for misspellings and typos, but mistakes do come through.