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Democrats Seek To Take On 9th District GOP Incumbent

9th District Debate

Photo: Christopher Ayers / WFIU News

The five candidates on stage for a debate two weeks in advance of the primary election.

It’s a Wednesday afternoon and John Griffin Miller is going door to door in a south Bloomington neighborhood handing out green fliers. In the left-bottom corner is a picture of himself with a broom in his hands and a caption that reads: “Sweep the incumbents out!” Miller makes it clear to each person that he stops to chat with that he’s not exactly running for Congress.

“What I like to say is that I’m running against Congress, etc.,” says Miller, who is one of five Democratic candidates vying for the opportunity to take on Republican Todd Young.

Miller describes himself as Roosevelt Democrat and says dissatisfaction with both parties in dealing with the aftermath of the financial crisis is what prompted him to jump into the race.

“We’ve just gotten way beyond caring about what’s good for the country,” he says. “Congress is concerned with bringing home the bacon to their particular district instead of setting national policy and programs that will actually fix things for everybody.”

Candidates Tout Military Experience

Both retired Brigadier General Jonathan George and former Army Reserve Colonel John Tilford bring military experience to the primary field. George spent 30 years in the air force and served under four U.S. presidents, most recently as a national security adviser to President Obama. He says he’s in the race because he is discouraged by the divided culture in Washington and believes Todd Young is contributing to that culture.

“He has an ideology that sees him voting 98.6 percent of the time with the Republican Party. That doesn’t take leadership to do that,” George says. “Leadership requires making tough decisions, taking a stance and being flexible and changing when you find there are better and new ways of doing things.”

John Tilford served two active-duty tours in Vietnam and remained an Army reservist until he retired in 2006. He has promised to accept no financial contributions to his campaign through the primary, a large focus of which has been reform of federal agencies that he sees as inefficient or wasteful, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Like George, Tilford says Washington’s problems will only be solved through a collaborative effort.

“Many things obviously need to be fixed and many things would be fixed if we had cooperative sharp people in Congress who could work together to do those things,” Tilford says. “So you have to get away from the politics, the grandstanding and the posturing and work together, place the nation first instead of party.”

Facing The Incumbent

The only candidate with experience working for a sitting legislator is Robert Winningham. He served as an assistant to Representative Lee Hamilton until 1997 and says that experience coupled with his work as an economic developer would allow him to hit the ground running.

“So as a Congressman and I worked for Lee Hamilton before so I know how this is done, I would get into every community across this district and look for those opportunities to create local economic growth,” Winningham says.

Rounding out the primary field is former Miss Indiana Shelli Yoder who currently works as Associate Director of Professional Development with Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business.

She has gained endorsements from such 9th District Democrats as Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan and former ninth district Democratic chairman Mike Jones. She says her experience as a counselor will make her an asset in forming relationships within a divided Congress.

“If there is ever a poster child for dysfunction and problem children, it is Washington. And I think having the experience of leading in those ways, I can take that and make a difference in Washington and have a kind of communication and collaborative leadership that Washington so desperately needs,” Yoder says.

But whoever wins the Democratic nomination will may face an uphill battle against Young. While the district has proven a reliable toss-up since Lee Hamilton retired in 1998, it was redistricted last year by a Republican-led legislature.

The result: the exclusion of areas along the Ohio River near Cincinnati seen as favorable for Democrats and a more compact district in the reliably conservative far southern part of the state.

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