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Indiana House battles pit underdogs against ‘Gippers’

Updated: September 24, 2012 9:42AM



INDIANAPOLIS — In the battle for Congress, Indiana Democrats are counting on underdog candidates to win with “Rudy”-like determination in November, while Republicans are hoping Hoosier voters will see a different Notre Dame tale in their candidates and “win one for the Gipper.”

The Democrats’ pick to try and hold Indiana’s 2nd District seat for them, Brendan Mullen, called on “Rudy” star Sean Astin last week to evoke some hometown pride for his underdog candidacy, including a $100-a-head tailgate before the Notre Dame battle against the University of Michigan.

The Republican candidate, former state Rep. Jackie Walorski, says that if Ronald Reagan, the man who played Notre Dame football star George Gipp onscreen, were still alive, he’d be supporting her for Congress.

All of Indiana’s nine congressional seats are on the ballot this year, per usual, but only two races have drawn much national interest based on their competitiveness: the northern Indiana battle for the 2nd District and the southwestern Indiana romp in the famous “Bloody Eighth” District.

“The Republican-dominated Legislature bolstered the Congressional maps (for their candidates) in almost every case, so I think the advantage is clearly with the Republican candidates going forward,” said John Ketzenberger, president of the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute and a follower of Statehouse and congressional battles across the state.

It could be a long time before Democrats see anything like the 5-4 edge they held in the delegation after 2008’s elections, and even a modest 6-3 deficit like they’ve held for the last two years may seem generous after November’s elections. Democrats are unlikely to have any trouble in the two seats Statehouse Republicans carved out for them last year, but any gains beyond that will be an uphill climb

Incumbent Democrats running for re-election in northwest Indiana and Indianapolis, U.S. Reps. Pete Visclosky and Andre Carson, respectively, appear ready to win re-election. So too do incumbent Republican U.S. Reps. Todd Rokita, Marlin Stutzman, and Todd Young.

Republican and Democratic campaign coordinators in Washington instead are working intensely with candidates in Indiana’s 2nd and 8th districts.

In southwestern Indiana, Republican U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon is running in a heated battle for re-election against former Democratic state Rep. Dave Crooks. Their on-air battling has largely stuck to a broad national script, with Bucshon echoing arguments that nearly every other Republican candidate nationwide is making.

“No matter what liberal politicians might say, you can trust Larry to protect Medicare, I should know, I trusted him with my daughter,” said Bucshon’s mother-in-law in one spot.

Crooks, a conservative Democrat and radio host, has stuck to a populist message, hitting Bucshon for opposing tariffs on China.

“I approve this message because I don’t understand why Washington keeps giving China a pass,” Crooks says at the end of one ad, showing him walking past cornfields in jeans and a flannel shirt.

Ketzenberger pegs the 8th District battle as the one that could be tightest on Election Day.

“Buchson has shown a resiliency that I don’t think a lot of people have expected him to have,” Ketzenberger said, noting Bucshon’s trouncing of a tea party opponent in the Republican primary earlier this year. “And Crooks is a very well-known person in that particular neck of the woods.”

Across the northern stretch of Indiana, Mullen and Walorski both face somewhat improbable tasks. For Mullen, it’s proving he can win in the newly lopsided district -- Walorski estimates Statehouse Republicans added 20,000 Republican voters to the district when they redrew the lines. For Walorski it’s shedding her image as a tea party Republican in favor of a more bipartisan operator similar to Donnelly or, as she notes, Reagan.

“I think that Reagan erred on the side of coming together with folks and getting things done, and not caring about (taking) political credit,” Walorski said. “I think he’d probably say winning one for the Gipper on this one is actually bringing this country back, and I’m looking forward to being a part of that team.”

But Astin, who was traveling with Mullen Friday, said Walorski’s tactics have been more divisive than team-building. He cited her criticism of Mullen’s time spent living in Washington after he left the Army.

“When I see the kind of petty tactic that someone uses, to call him a carpetbagger ... this is where he’s from,” Astin said. “It’s beneath the dignity of the voters of the 2nd District to waste time talking about that.”

Heart and soul might get Democrats’ “Rudy” types on the field, but the “Gipper” still looks like a winner in deep-red Indiana.



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