Democratic Incumbents in Possible Primary Peril

Presidential Politics Comes Into Play as Carson Fights Off Wealthy Challenger

Posted April 29, 2008 at 6:26pm

Who’s your Hoosier Daddy?

In Indianapolis, superdelegate and newly elected Rep. André Carson (D) has endorsed Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), who is battling to win the state in the Democratic presidential primary on May 6. Meanwhile, Obama has cut a radio spot endorsing Carson in his Congressional primary on the same day, when the incumbent is facing three tough Democratic challengers.

The strange bedfellows is illustrative of a larger trend across Indiana, in which Congressional candidates are hoping to latch on to some of the attention that the Democratic presidential candidates have usurped as they brought their campaigns to the Hoosier State. Meanwhile, the presidential contest has overshadowed not only the 7th district and gubernatorial Democratic primaries, but also the noteworthy Republican primary in the 5th district.

Obama is likely hoping to acquire Carson’s union support in the 7th district, while the seven-week old incumbent Carson might be hoping to benefit from the Senator’s support in the black community next week. The black population in the 7th district is almost 30 percent.

Carson’s toughest opposition is former state Health Commissioner Woody Myers (D), who has funneled $1.2 million of his own fortune into this short primary campaign. Myers’ own poll last week showed him within striking distance of Carson, with the two other Democrats, state Reps. Carolene Mays and David Orentlicher, bringing up the rear.

Myers, who also supports Obama, said even his frequent ad buys have been “dwarfed” by those of the presidential campaigns. Myers said he has served as an online health care adviser to Obama and co-chaired a fundraiser for him last year.

“Maybe if I was a superdelegate, I would have gotten an ad, too,” Myers said of Obama’s radio advertisement for Carson.

Yet the huge influx of new voters in the Indianapolis area — a number the Marion County Clerk’s Office estimated could be close to 56,000 — might also aid Carson, considering he bears the same last name as his grandmother, the late Rep. Julia Carson (D), who died in December. Carson won the special election to replace his grandmother in March.

“I think that voters in Indianapolis and Indiana are pretty smart and they know that my opponent with the high name ID is not the same person as his grandmother,” Myers said.

Carson’s campaign did not respond to a request for an interview Tuesday.

Just east of Indianapolis in the 5th district, former Marion County Coroner John McGoff’s Republican primary challenge to longtime Rep. Dan Burton is also being overshadowed by the presidential contest.

Dan Parker, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, said he thought many of the party crossover voters and independent voters that McGoff was seeking would register for the Democratic primary instead, so they could vote in the presidential contest — and therefore would not get to vote in the 5th district GOP contest.

“I think McGoff was hoping to get more moderate, more centrist Republicans to come out and vote against Burton and he needed a healthy dose of independents to jump into that primary as well,” Parker said. “I think that hurts McGoff.”

McGoff’s campaign manager, Trevor Foughty, said the campaign was likely going to lose some crossover Democrats, but thought Burton might have a tough time keeping some of his supporters voting in the GOP primary as well.

“If Democrats crossed over, that was going to be gravy,” Foughty said. “But I think Dan’s going to have a hard time getting his voters not to cross over to the Democratic side.”

Instead, Foughty said the biggest impact of having the presidential contest move to his state was the scarcity of earned media opportunities in the weeks leading up to the primary.

“The presidential campaigns are soaking up about 80 percent of the earned media,” he said.

Nonetheless, McGoff has waged enough of a war on Burton to make the incumbent spend much more than he usually does on his campaigns. According to online campaign finance records, Burton has spent about $1.2 million so far this cycle. In 2006, when he had no primary challenger, Burton spent $817,858 on both the primary and general election.

But what many of the campaigns expect to be the wild card in Tuesday’s primary is the plethora of new voters heading to the polls, many of whom they hope will be familiar with the state law to require official government-issued identification in order to vote. That controversial law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this week.

In Marion County, which comprises all of the 7th district and parts of the 4th and 5th districts, there were 56,713 new, transferred or updated voter registrations this year. About 18,400 of those registrations are new Indiana voters, according to the county clerk’s office.

Democrats believe many of those voters registered or updated their information because they planned to vote in the Democratic presidential primary and, party leaders hope, again in November. The fact that there are 200,000 new voters in the state makes Democratic Chairman Parker happy that the White House primary has dragged on all the way to the Hoosier State.

“All of these are good party-building activities,” Parker said. “I don’t understand why people want this over.”