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Indiana challengers say it is time for new GOP leaders

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Associated Press Writer

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Republicans who know their way around Washington have targets on their backs this Tuesday as primary election opponents portray them as establishment candidates who need to make way for a new generation of conservative leaders.

Former Sen. Dan Coats, one of five Republicans vying for an open U.S. Senate seat, has been criticized by other GOP candidates as an old-guard Washington lobbyist whose time has passed. Challengers are circling the waters in the 5th Congressional District after smelling a chance to oust GOP Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana’s longest-serving congressman. Former Rep. Mike Sodrel is facing a serious challenge from a young prosecutor in the 9th Congressional District, and 3rd District Rep. Mark Souder is entangled in a nasty campaign against an auto dealer with deep pockets.

Blame the tea party movement, which opposes big government, for ending those sleepy primary elections where big-name candidates coasted to victory, said Bob Schmuhl, a political analyst and University of Notre Dame professor.

“The great unknown of this primary is the extent to which tea party-minded voters will participate and will have impact,” he said. “Will incumbents or establishment-perceived candidates pay a price this Tuesday? Nobody knows the answer to that question.”

Coats spent 10 years in the Senate and was recruited by national Republicans to bring fundraising prowess and name recognition to this year’s race even before Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh announced he would not seek re-election. Coats has outraised his competitors, and many think he’ll win the primary.

But his campaign hasn’t been the smooth sailing some expected.

Many younger voters don’t know him. He missed a deadline to file a report on his personal finances and recently loaned his campaign $200,000 — a move his staff insisted did not reflect fundraising problems.

Challengers have treated Coats like an incumbent even though he’s been out of office for nearly 12 years, said former state Republican chairman Mike McDaniel. Coats was always regarded as a conservative senator and congressman, McDaniel said, but, “They’re now all trying to run to the right of Dan.”

State Sen. Marlin Stutzman bills himself as an “authentic conservative” who has never had a Washington address. Former Rep. John Hostettler says the state can’t afford to give Coats another chance to represent conservative values.

Tea party voters who object to the party-picked candidate could have an impact on Tuesday’s election, especially if voter turnout is low, McDaniel said.

“If those who turn out are just those very, very conservative Republicans who have bought into that ’We need to change completely in Washington,’ then that may not serve Dan well,” McDaniel said.

But the crowded field — which also includes financial adviser Don Bates Jr. of Winchester and Fishers businessman Richard Behney — will help Coats by splitting votes, said Nate LaMar, who organized a debate of the five Senate candidates in Henry County in February.

“I don’t think it will be an easy win for him, but I think Dan Coats is going to win the primary,” LaMar said.

The winner will likely face Democratic candidate Rep. Brad Ellsworth in November.

In the 5th Congressional District, Burton faces six challengers who think it’s time for him to go after nearly three decades in Congress.

The veteran lawmaker has been criticized in the past for missing House votes to play in a California charity golf event. Challenger John McGoff, a physician, likened Burton to a useless appendix that needs to be removed. State Rep. Mike Murphy said he has a retirement gift for Burton: a golf book and a one-way ticket to California.

Despite the comic approach, serious money is being spent on the race. Former state Rep. Luke Messer of Shelbyville, who says he represents the “next generation of conservative leadership,” had raised $526,000 compared with Burton’s $783,000 as of April 14.

The ballot also includes Carmel businessman Brose McVey, tea party candidate Andy Lyons and marketing manager Ann Adcook. Like Coats, Burton will be helped by the large number of challengers, said Brian Vargus, a political science professor at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis.

“Somebody could beat him,” Vargus said of Burton. “It’s completely possible, but he’s got an advantage in that they’ve spread out the vote.”

In southeast Indiana’s 9th District, Sodrel is touting his experience while Bloomington prosecutor Todd Young is campaigning as a fresh face. Young has been endorsed by several Republican state office holders and held a fundraiser with former Vice President Dan Quayle. He has raised $473,000 — more than twice as much as Sodrel’s $203,000 as of April 14.

In northeast Indiana’s 3rd District, challenger and car dealer Bob Thomas has portrayed Souder as a career politician who isn’t a true fiscal conservative. Thomas’ ads show Souder’s picture next to images of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Souder scoffs at the idea of being anything but conservative. His ads emphasize his A-plus rating from the NRA and a National Right to Life Committee rating of 100 percent.

“I didn’t even know it was legal to be to the right of me,” Souder said in a commercial.

In Indiana’s 4th District, where longtime GOP Rep. Steve Buyer is not seeking re-election, 13 candidates are seeking the nomination — including Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita and state Sen. Brandt Hershman.

Most of Tuesday’s action will be among the GOP. Democratic incumbents or party-backed candidates are expected to win without much of a fight.

“It’s much more fun to vote in the Republican primary,” Vargus said.

In races for the state Legislature, both Republicans and Democrats are looking for the candidates who will be strong contenders in November. The 2010 election is especially important in the Statehouse because the parties in power will draw new political maps in 2011 following the 2010 census.


Posted 5/3/2010




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