13 GOP Hopefuls Making For a Big 4th District Race

Published Sunday 18 of April, 2010

Mary Beth Schneider, Indianapolis Star

On a bright, sunny Saturday when most people were outside, Fred and Barbara Owens were inside, attending a candidate forum for a chance to compare the 4th Congressional District candidates side by side. By side, by side, by side, by side, by side, by side . . .

In fact, there’s a baker’s dozen of Republican candidates seeking to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Steve Buyer, along with a trio on the Democratic ballot in the May 4 primary.

The GOP side alone includes a secretary of state , two state senators, a mayor, a county commissioner, a high school assistant principal, an engineer, a pastor who also is a correctional officer, two men who bill themselves online as the “common man,” a woman who sells calendars featuring glamour shots of herself and one man so anxious to make sure voters know his career that he’s adopted the word “firefighter” as a nickname for the ballot.

No wonder folks like the Owenses find the job of hiring a new congressman a little daunting.

“We have no idea (whom) we’ll support, and it’s going to be difficult,” said Barbara Owens, a 69-year-old retired nurse from Avon.

And forums like the one they attended, organized by the tea party group Indy Defenders of Liberty West, can help only so much, as the sheer number of candidates limits how long anyone can talk.

State Sen. Brandt Hershman, also seeking the nomination, said Rokita may have gotten a boost from the $2 million in ads, paid for with public funds, that the secretary of state’s office has aired in recent years. “But that’s a double-edged sword,” Hershman said. “He talks about redistricting and voter ID, which I find ironic as I co-authored the voter ID (bill in the Senate). But those are not the key issues that are on people’s minds. It’s unemployment, the economy and health care.”

Hershman, a Lafayette Republican, also is considered to have an edge because he has worked for Buyer as his district director since 1992 — a job that makes him familiar with both the long, rambling district and its political and civic leaders. He also has Buyer’s endorsement. Not that many people seem to know that, though. At the Hendricks County forum, and in a radio ad he’s airing, he never mentions he works for Buyer. Instead, the ad says he “manages the family farm.”

Almost all Republicans are assuming that the May 4 winner also will win the Nov. 2 general election in this heavily Republican district. Not so fast, Democrats say.

While three names are on the ballot, one — Mark Powell, Whiteland — has dropped his campaign.

David Sanders, a Purdue University biologist, ran against Buyer in 2006, getting 37 percent of the vote. This year is different, he said, because it’s an open seat. And he thinks voters are looking for change. Sanders said he brings scientific expertise on important issues from pandemics, such as H1N1 flu, to energy and climate change. “I don’t have to rely on lobbyists to tell me how to vote on these issues,” he said. “I think there’s a certain amount of frustration with career politicians. I’m not a career politician.”

If Republicans think they’ve already got the race won, he said, that’s fine, “but I’ve got a surprise for them in November.”