Indiana Election 2011 | Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations

IUPUI Professor Discusses 5th District Race

WFYI's Sharon Alseth talks with IUPUI Political Science Professor Brian Vargus about the 5th District match-up.

Six Republicans and two Democrats are going after GOP incumbent Dan Burton, Indiana’s 5th District Congressman who is seeking a fifteenth term. Though the north-central Indiana district leans heavily Republican, Burton is considered by many to be beatable this year. From Indiana Public Broadcasting Member Station WFYI in Indianapolis, Sharon Alseth talks with IUPUI Political Science Professor Brian Vargus about the 5th District match-up. Here is their conversation:

BRIAN VARGUS/IUPUI: Burton’s history has always been a bit controversial. He particularly is reluctant to talk to the press, particularly the major newspaper in the state. He travels a lot, particularly to play golf. When he was first elected in 1982, as the senior member of the Indiana delegation, he didn’t want people to know he was a congressional golf champion. He kinda kept it quiet.

SHARON ALSETH/WFYI: Is there anything remarkable about his record in congress?

VARGUS: There isn’t anything particularly remarkable in the sense that in terms of a piece of legislation with his name on it, other than the Burton-Helms Act which embargoes Cuba and prevents Americans from travel to Cuba and trade with Cuba. The thing which is probably most interesting is that he’s viewed by many of his colleagues as a bit of a hypocrite, because he spoke out rather strongly against earmarks and special kinds of legislation that delivered different projects to their district or their state, and yet he worked very hard with former Congresswoman Julia Carson to get the federal money that basically funded the midfield terminal at the Indianapolis Airport. Still he has a very loyal following among those people who have worked in his office and who have worked with him over the years. He has always been kind of an anti-establishment Republican.

ALSETH: There are two Democratic and six Republican challengers, some with some big ad money to spend, and among the Republicans you’ve got some bigger names like former state party chairman Luke Messer, State Representative Mike Murphy, Brose McVey, former coroner John McGoff of Marion County. Any of these people rise above the others as a potential real threat to Dan Burton?

VARGUS: Well one would think it might be McGoff because he ran against him in the primary two years ago and was the first time anybody had really come very close to Burton, and came within I think six to seven percentage points. This group that’s running against him is an interesting collection because you have a former vice party chairman in Luke Messer who’s also been a state rep., he comes from Shelbyville. Mike Murphy has the backing of former Lt. Governor John Mutz, and his media is being handled by a former aide to Governor Orr, John Hammond, a very big name in the Republican party. McGoff is still there but has not raised that much money, and then Brose McVey who lost a race for the congressional district seat in Indianapolis, this is a different seat now that he’s running for. He has not apparently been able to gain much traction, he does not have that much money. Murphy and Messer are already on television as is Burton, and it’s an important indication of what’s going on in the Republican party. It’s a definite fight. I know for example in Murphy’s ad there’s not a single mention that he’s a Republican. Luke Messer’s ads have been more to introduce him to a constituency that doesn’t know him well.

ALSETH: How about on the Democratic side – Nasser Hanna, any threat-challenge there? Then you have also Tim Crawford of Noblesville running.

VARGUS: The district is so Republican that it’s going to be very difficult for a Democrat to win it. Nasser is a physician, an oncologist and has raised the most money of the group. But it’s still, if it’s not against Burton, then it becomes almost like an open seat and more money will be attracted, though the Democrats have to look at it and say it would be almost lightening striking for Nasser to win it and he seems to be the strongest among that group.