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Indiana Election 2011 | Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations

Statehouse Vs. National Experience in 2nd District Race

Indiana’s second district congressional race is essentially a two person race, although three names will appear on the ballot.

Indiana 2nd District Map

Photo: courtesy graphic

A map of the state's 2nd district.

Indiana’s second district congressional race is essentially a two person race, although three names will appear on the ballot. Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly is seeking a third term against Republican state representative Jackie Walorski and Libertarian Mark Vogel, whose polling numbers suggest he has little chance of winning.

The second district, contains all, or parts, of 12 counties, and includes the cities of South Bend, Elkhart and Kokomo. And of the 12 counties, five were in the top 20for unemployment in August, according to numbers released by the state Department of Work Force Development.

That means the candidates are focusing on economic issues to sway voters, and Congressman Donnelly said not surprisingly, that means one issue is trumping all others in this campaign.

“This is about jobs and job creation, and from a year ago every single county in our congressional district has lower unemployment and we’re making progress, it’s not as fast as we want, but progress is being made on all fronts, and so it’s a question of how we’re going to continue to create jobs,” Donnelly said.

State Representative Walorski said she agrees that jobs are the single most important issue in the minds of voters, but she’s not sensing that folks in the second district share Congressman Donnelly’s optimism.

“We kind of hear the same things from South Bend to Kokomo everyday, which is Democrats obviously have not unveiled any kind of jobs plan, the unemployment rate is still high, they’re continuing to spend and push spending plans and bills, and what we’re hearing from the north to the south is people who are concerned about having someone being at the table fighting for them and keeping them at the table,” she said.

And the importance of jobs and the economy isn’t the only thing the candidates actually agree on. Both say they’re against amnesty for illegal immigrants. Both back the ongoing fight in Afghanistan and believe it’s time to wind down the war in Iraq. And, in a year when social issues hardly seem to be on the radar, both candidates are opposed to abortion rights.

Jack Colwell is a political columnist for the South Bend Tribune and Howey Politics Indiana and said that since Donnelly and Walorski share many views he expects the election to be close, with the style of the two candidates playing a part in the outcome.

“Some people have called it a race between a blue dog and a pit bull,” Colwell said. “Donnelly is a blue dog, moderate Democrat; and Jackie Walorski comes on very strong, she likes being called a pit bull, and is supported by Tea Party factions, but she also has the support of the Republican Party establishment as well.”

Walorski has received support from some political heavyweights, including the top dog in the Tea Party movement Sarah Palin and former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Yet despite her ties to the Republican Party, Walroski is attempting to run as an outsider.

“Both of these parties are so dysfunctional right now people are tired of it,” she said. “People in the second district are tired of the party running the show and the agenda, and I’ve proven myself in the state of Indiana that I can stop either a Republican or Democratic agenda, that is exactly what needs to happen in Washington.”

If Walorski sounds more like a Tea Party candidate than a five-year GOP state representative, that may be because she believes Tea Party voter will have a major affect on the outcome of the election.  Yet another thing she and Donnelly agree on.

“They are energized and they are hardworking folks and I applaud their involvement in the process,” Donnelly said. “And so I think they’ll be coming out to vote, I think they’ve voted before in the past. I think you’ll have a significant vote across the board from people of all persuasions.

If Donnelly seems a little less than enthusiastic about the potential turn-out Tea Party voters, that only makes sense. He voted for the troika of legislation they deride, namely the bank bailout, the stimulus package and the health care overhaul. Something Walorski reminds voters of at every opportunity – both in campaign stops and in political ads.

Still despite the backing of many Tea Party supporters, Walorski faces a difficult challenge. The only televised debate of the campaign takes place October 27th, 25 days after the beginning of early voting in Indiana. And like most incumbents seeking re-election Congressman Donnelly has a sizeable advantage in campaign funds, heading into the final stretch of the campaign.