New York Times national correspondent Jeff Zeleny noted that 48 Democrats in the U.S. House occupy seats in districts carried by Republican John McCain two years ago. This factoid presents a potential roadmap to the fates of the three vulnerable Hoosier Democrats.
In the 8th CD, McCain defeated Barack Obama 51-47 percent. Democrats have all but pulled the plug on the Democratic campaign of State Rep. Trent Van Haaften, one of the “Bayh dominoes” who is projected to get swept out on Nov. 1. Howey Politics Indiana has this race “Likely” Republican Larry Buchson after several polls have shown him with wide leads.
In the 2nd CD, Obama defeated McCain 54-45 percent. Recent polling shows State Rep. Jackie Walorski closing in on U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly. Howard County Republican Chairman Craig Dunn said internal polling has shown Walorski chipping a 9-point Donnelly lead to “at the margin of error” around four percent.
And in our lone “Tossup” race, McCain barely defeated Obama 50-49 percent in the 9th CD, where U.S. Rep. Baron Hill is trying to stave off a challenge from Republican Todd Young. Reliable Democratic sources say Hill’s internals show him “a couple points up.” He has faced an onslaught of $1.4 million in outside money that Young says “has leveled the playing field.” Hill said Monday night after a debate here, “Our numbers are holding up.”
The 9th could be engulfed by the GOP wave, though Young has been unable to close ranks with primary opponents Mike Sodrel and Travin Hankins. That could hurt him around the margins.
In a speech at Franklin College on Oct. 12, Zeleny said of the 48 Democrats sitting in McCain seats, “They’re holding onto seats they shouldn’t.” Democrats hold 55 seats they won in 2006 and 2008 when voters rejected the policies of President George W. Bush and the Iraq War.”
“Will there be a wave with all 55 seats gone in a year?” Zeleny asked.
Politico’s Mike Allen projects the Republican pickup between 40 and 45 seats. So does Zeleny. Analyst Stuart Rothenberg puts it in the “50” range, with this caveat: “There is at least a one in three chance of a Republican tsunami that would result in Democratic losses well above the 1994 level of 52 seats.”
And Dr. Larry Sabato projects a 47 seat GOP pickup in his “Crystal Ball.” The New York Times FiveThirtyEight blog predicts a 49-seat GOP pickup.
“So much has changed in the last two years,” Zeleny said. Obama was on a roll in the state through autumn 2008, becoming the first Democrat to carry Indiana in 44 years. “It carried through the inaugural,” Zeleny said, adding, “Week by week it changed a little bit.”
Hoosiers had a front-row seat through the erosion of Obama’s support. He made his first trip outside of Washington to Elkhart in early February 2009, pushing the stimulus package that is now under fire in the state. He vowed that he wouldn’t “forget” people in Elkhart and Kokomo, where jobless rates approached 20 percent. Not only did his stimulus give Indiana voters a tax cut (representing a third of the package), but the stimulus infusion of money propped up the state budget on education and Medicaid and saved thousands of teaching and public safety jobs.
Other stimulus money showered on Indiana electric car and industrial upstarts such as EnerDel, Bright Automotive and Caterpillar.
In the following months, Obama forced General Motors and Chrysler into prepackaged bankruptcy that not only saved 140,000 auto-related jobs in the state, but brought new jobs into GM plants at Marion, Fort Wayne and Bedford.
In a development few could have predicted, Republicans have railed at the stimulus package. In the 3rd CD – home of a huge GM plant in Fort Wayne – Republican Marlin Stutzman has said he would not have supported the auto bailout. Republican Senate nominee Dan Coats has castigated the stimulus package even while appearing at some of the companies that benefitted from funding. State Treasurer Richard Mourdock unsuccessfully challenged the Chrysler-Fiat merger, saying it perverted centuries of U.S. bankruptcy law. Had he won that lawsuit in the U.S. Supreme Court, more than 5,000 Chrysler-related jobs would have been liquidated.
“Fortunes have changed,” Zeleny said. “Attention spans are minimal.”
To date, Indiana Democrats have not framed what could be a buttress for their embattled candidates.
“This could be the most consequential election since 1994,” Zeleny said. He traces the animosity Democrats are now feeling not only to the health care reforms President Obama signed into law last March, but also to “the recovery summer” that ended with jobless rates at 9.6 percent nationwide and 10.2 percent here in Indiana. The Tea Party and Republicans have reacted loudly and angrily about the deficits and spending and bailouts and the news is mixed here. Wall Street will pay a record $144 billion in wages and bonuses this year while Main Street struggles. But Bloomberg News reported that taxpayers have actually made $25 billion off of TARP.
On Election Night, Indiana will be the bellwether state with all eyes on the fates of Hill and Donnelly.
(The columnist publishes at www.howeypolitics.com)