Though they’re about to be out-spent and out-recognized by their Democratic and Republican opponents, there are two other men running insurgent campaigns in Indiana’s 9th congressional district. One candidate hopes to use his party affiliation to make waves in the traditional two-party system and the other aims to show politicians don’t need a party…as long as they’ve got a YouTube channel.
Though no incumbent congressmen lost primary elections in Indiana, there is still a hope among some that the anti-Washington sentiment seen in other parts of the country might come home to roost in November. It’s that perception which fuels the campaign of Jerry Lucas, a registered nurse from North Vernon who’s running as an unaffiliated write-in candidate. For weeks, Lucas has recorded videos of his stances on the issues in his home and posted them to a YouTube channel. Lucas lives on a farm, commutes to Indianapolis for work and has pledged to refuse campaign donations. He prefers to pay his own way, driving around the district with a simple sign advertising his candidacy and answering constituent questions personally. In so doing, Lucas believes he’s found even some dyed-in-the-wool political believers are beginning to waver.
“I went over to the feed mill here in North Vernon and the gentleman there is a lifelong Democrat,” Lucas said. “When he got talking, the thing he told me is that ‘I believe in the Democrat Party, but I wouldn’t vote for Baron Hill if he was the last man on the ticket.”
Libertarian candidate Greg Knott, an IT administrator from Bloomington, is staking his campaign on a six-point platform with the acronym “NO BULL”, which includes ending military action overseas.
“It kind of confirms my belief that I’ll be the only strong anti-war candidate in the 9th District race,” Knott said. “I know Baron Hill supports the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and I haven’t seen Todd Young come out with a strong position to cut off funding and bring the troops home.”
Neither Knott nor Lucas has the millions of dollars it’s expected to take to win the election, but Knott said he thinks less might be more in 2010.
“I won’t be beholden to any special interest, whereas the other two candidates — if they have million of dollars in contributions from special interests — I think some people would see that as a bribe.”
Jerry Lucas isn’t bribing people to remember to write in his name on November 2, but he said he’s opened his driveway to voters who might back him and won’t send them away empty-handed.
“If you pulled in my driveway, you’re going to leave with a dozen brown eggs, just because I have them here,” he said.
Lucas is the race’s everyman, just as Elizabethtown’s Rick Warren was in the 9th District’s Republican primary. Warren, an unemployed quality engineer, garnered only about three percent of the G-O-P vote in May. Lucas has a job, but said he knows the hardships felt by many in the 20 counties he’s seeking to represent.
“Do you know what it’s like to be on food stamps? I do. Do you know what it’s like to have a collection agency call you? I do. Do you know what it’s like to wonder when that next meal’s going to come? I have.”
For both candidates, the race is as much a chance to shape the course of future political debate in the 9th as it is a chance to hold public office. Knott said he knows major parties often appropriate third party campaign planks as their own as a means of forcing candidates out of a race, but he says he could accept that in this case.
“For me, I view that as a win, because it’s not about me; it’s not about the other candidates,” he said. “To me, it’s about the ideas. And if the ideas gain acceptance and are adopted, that’s a win for me and it’s a win for the voters of the 9th District.”
Among the new ideas being proposed are Lucas’s pledges to serve a maximum of two terms if elected and refund any pay raises to the state of Indiana if Congress approves them while he’s in office. Knott noted the district contains the town of Milan, whose underdog basketball team shocked the state by winning the 1954 state title. That makes this year’s race something like the scene from the movie Hoosiers — based on the Milan team — where the players from fictional Hickory High School arrive at the state finals, only to be shown by their coach that the game hasn’t changed, it’s just being played on a larger stage. Just as the Milan team still fuels debates about single-class basketball in the state, Knott says he hopes this year’s 9th District contest can have a lasting effect on the way voters see races.
“Maybe people won’t be thinking about voting trying to vote for the lesser of two evils,” Knott said. “Which in my mind is…still evil.”