Indiana Election 2011 | Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations

Crowded Fourth District Field Offers Primary Voters Many Options

Thirteen candidates are trying to succeed incumbent Steve Buyer for Indiana's Fourth District House seat. Buyer announced his retirement earlier this year.

One of the most contested Primary races in Indiana is the Republican nomination for the 4th District Congressional seat. Thirteen candidates are trying to succeed incumbent Steve Buyer who announced his retirement earlier this year. On the Democratic side, a university professor hopes to win his party’s nomination for a third time.

While there are more than a dozen Republicans seeking the nomination, the race really comes down to two, maybe three candidates – Secretary of State Todd Rokita and state Senators Brandt Hershman and Mike Young.

Wabash College Political Science Department Chairman David Hadley thinks Rokita has the advantage.

“He, by virtue of running statewide twice and holding recognizable office for eight years, has clear name recognition,” says Hadley. “He has connections with people in the party and potential financial contributors throughout the state.”

But Rokita doesn’t seem to be taking that for granted. At a candidates’ forum in Lafayette, he made it clear he is different from the two state senators.

“The last thing we should do is raise taxes and some of the folks running for this very office were part of the largest tax increase on businesses in Indiana history — $737 million,” Rokita told the crowd. “I don’t care what the situation is, it is never the right thing to do to raise a tax. You control spending. You rein in government.”

The situation Rokita is talking about is the unemployment insurance tax increase, which would have made the state’s fund solvent and taken effect this year, but lawmakers delayed imposing it until next year, due to the economy.

Hadley thinks Hershman will remain competitive, because of his work as Congressman Steve Buyer’s director of district operations, but says it will be an uphill battle.

“He knows the district, probably, better than anybody else, but I don’t think the district necessarily knows him,” Hadley says. “So, he’s got to find some way to overcome that. He can do that by getting out talking to people throughout the district, but it’s a huge district.”

Hershman has the endorsement of Buyer, and some of the congressman’s former campaign staff is now working on Hershman’s behalf, so he’s up to the fight. He’s touting his ten-year record in the state senate.

“Over that period of time, the inventory tax has been eliminated, 90 percent of Hoosiers seeing lower property tax rates due to reform I co-authored, Wabash Riverfront development has a permanent source of funding, and legislation I’ve authored created the opportunity for 100,000 new jobs to be created and over $1.5 billion in direct investment in our state, simply by getting government out of the way,” says Hershman.

On the Democrat’s side, Purdue professor David Sanders is the likely nominee. It will be a title he’s held twice before. One Democrat on the ballot decided not to campaign after disagreeing with the party’s handling of the federal health care reform vote last month. The other candidate, Tara Nelson, has done little campaigning.

Sanders, a professor of biological sciences at Purdue, ran unsuccessfully against Buyer in 2004 and 2006. He says this campaign will be different from the past.

“We’re being much more aggressive in terms of campaign fundraising this time than in the past,” says Sanders. “We also have a more extensive organization. A lot of people have recognized what’s transpired in this district in the last few years and they really want a change. They want someone to represent their interests. So, I have people working with me in almost all the counties, making it easier to organize the campaign.”

Hadley says although Sanders has name recognition and a better operation, it’s tough for any Democrat to win the Fourth District, which experts believe was designed for a Republican.

“Sanders is going to have the usual mountain to climb in the district, because it’s probably 70 percent Republican,” says Hadley. “The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is not likely to see this as winnable and has a number of districts it has to protect in this year that’s going to be a tough year for Democrats.”

He says that’s the main reason why so many Republicans are running for the open seat, because history shows the one who wins the GOP nomination in the Fourth District, wins the general election.