Fourth Hill-Sodrel Battle Set

Posted October 9, 2007 at 6:20pm

Former Rep. Mike Sodrel (R-Ind.) is hoping the fourth time is the charm against Rep. Baron Hill (D). On Tuesday afternoon, Sodrel announced his plans for a rematch from his hometown of New Albany, Ind.

Hill, who was first elected in 1998, held onto his seat in the first match against Sodrel in 2002, but lost to him in 2004 before taking back the seat in 2006. The winning margins in all three races were less than 5 points in a southeast Indiana district that tends to elect Democrats locally but votes Republican in statewide and presidential contests.

Although Sodrel, a wealthy transportation company executive, did not put money into his 2006 campaign, he did self-fund in his 2002 and 2004 races — about $1.2 million of his own money in total, according to Federal Election Commission records. This time around though, Sodrel said in a phone interview, he is not likely to fund his own race.

“Can’t say I absolutely won’t, but I don’t intend to spend my own money,” he said. “I intend to run on the resources funded by my own constituents … and other interested parties.”

But this cycle Democrats say the National Republican Congressional Committee is not on track to have the money to fund the race like it did in 2006. In the previous cycle, the NRCC spent more than $3 million on the race to keep Sodrel’s seat.

“The NRCC spent more on Sodrel’s unsuccessful race last year than they currently have in the bank,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Doug Thornell said in a statement. “Given all of the districts where they are on the defense, a rerun DeLay Republican who was fired by voters for being part of the problem will have a difficult time competing in this environment.”

But Sodrel might be banking on a presidential-year turnout to push him to victory.

When he was still considering a fourth House bid in May, Sodrel told the New Albany Tribune, “It would be really nice if I knew who the respective presidential candidates were going to be, but I can’t wait that late.”

That comment left many Hoosier operatives thinking Sodrel is betting that sentiment against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y), the Democratic presidential frontrunner, could help him carry the district in 2008. Brian Howey, the publisher of the nonpartisan Howey Political Report, speculated that could have driven Sodrel’s decision to run again.

“I think he’s making a calculated judgment that Hillary’s the nominee and he can ring 2, 3 points out of that,” Howey said. “If that’s the case, he might be able to get by with about a million [dollars] less.”

Sodrel said on Tuesday that though he wanted to wait to see who the nominees of each party would be, he had to start campaigning. However, he also conceded that Clinton might not do well in the Hoosier State.

“I don’t think Sen. Clinton will do well in Indiana and it may well drive some voters out that wouldn’t typically be there,” Sodrel said.

The effects of the top of the Indiana ticket are further complicated because popular Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), who has endorsed Clinton, also is often mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate for Clinton.

“If Hillary were on the ticket, you might see the vote drop off 3 to 4 percent because of that,” Howey said. “But if Bayh were on the ticket he would almost neutralize that.“

As for his relationship with his four-time opponent, Sodrel said that he wouldn’t characterize their interactions as “polite,” but rather as “civil,” though both greet each other when they see one another.

“You get the feeling that this is a personal thing,” Howey said. “Hill and Sodrel, they really don’t like each other.”