Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Ellsworth Not Progressive But Formidable in Senate Race
Maybe there was a method to the madness. When Evan Bayh stepped away from his run for re-election to the Senate yesterday, my friends and I were up in arms about the way that he did it. On the face, it seemed like a dirty move to walk away without any time for the Democrats to field a candidate.
Now, with Tammy D'Ippolito woefully short of the signatures needed to make the ballot (she only was able to muster TWO CERTIFIED SIGNATURES from the heavily Democratic 7th Congressional District), Bayh's move looks incredibly smart and helpful to the Indiana Democratic Party as the party can hand select a candidate that will have a clear and open field through the primary and on to the General Election.
The Republicans figure to have a nasty, drawn out, and bitter fight. Former Senator Dan Coats is the biggest name, but Democrats have exposed a soft underbelly that his opponents can attack. John Hostettler has big negatives. That's why I believe that Marlin Stutzman, who has quietly been gaining the support of Indiana Republicans, is such a solid candidate. Don Bates, Jr. and Richard Behney claimed yesterday that they also have signatures to be candidates on the Republican ballot. All of them garnished enough signatures in at least the 7th District to qualify for ballot access in May.
So, while the Republicans scratch and claw it out, the Democrats can calmly pick a candidate to go toe-to-toe with the Republican that survives. What Democrat will that be? There are many possibilities. Amongst the names bandied about have been former Secretary of State Joe Hogsett, Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker, former State Health Commissioner Woody Myers, former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, former Indiana Speaker of the House John Gregg, 9th District Congressman Baron Hill, and many others.
The smart money speculation is seemingly centering around the bluest of Indiana Blue Dogs, Congressman Brad Ellsworth. It's hard to believe, but the wildly popular Ellsworth has been in Congress for four years now building an honestly conservative and principled record in Congress. He is the perfect Democrat for the 8th Congressional District, but he makes Evan Bayh look like FDR, politically. He is extremely conservative and progressives may find themselves choking if he is chosen to represent the Democratic fortunes.
I share those concerns, but I will say this about Ellsworth. Having spent some time with him in French Lick this past August, I was impressed with him. There is something refreshingly not political about him. Unlike Bayh, who seems like a programmed political robot at times, Ellsworth comes across like a REAL GUY. I don't like his views, but I do like him.
At French Lick, I had the chance to be around the Congressman and his staff, and I found the relationship between them to be refreshing. His staff was fiercely loyal. They all referred to the Congressman as "Brad" and not anything else.
As I sat across from the Congressman on the roof of the French Lick Hotel, his staff huddled under blankets under the stars. Ellsworth sipped on a bottle of water, and we talked calmly about anything but our political differences. It was an unbelievable moment. I started to see why he cleaned John Hostettler's clock. He's an excellent politician by NOT being a politician. If it's an act, he's really good, and Republicans definitely will have their hands full with him. He will connect with voters...maybe not progressives, but Republicans and independents. Progressives will have to work with him, but I think he will listen. While he never may be as progressive as we want him to be, I just get the feeling that our differences will be more honest and less political than they were with Bayh.