Rokita Favored in Buyer Open Seat

Posted March 24, 2010 at 5:46pm

The May 4 Republican primary in Indiana’s 4th district will not only determine a nominee for the November election, it will decide who will succeed retiring Rep. Steve Buyer (R) next year.

With six weeks remaining until the primary, Republican officials say Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita is the frontrunner — in large part because of the name recognition he achieved during two statewide campaigns and seven-plus years in office.

Rokita “is probably in the driver’s seat just because of his name ID, his ability to go out and raise money in pretty short order and put an organization together,” said Mike O’Brien, the neutral chairman of the GOP organization in vote-rich Hendricks County, just west of Indianapolis.

The district, which meanders from Buyer’s home base in northwestern Indiana to south of Bloomington in southwestern Indiana, overwhelmingly favors Republicans.

“It’s about a 200-mile long district, so you can easily argue it takes a statewide elected official to run effectively in a district that goes from northern Indiana down to southern Indiana,” Rokita said.

Rokita attracted nationwide attention for his high-profile defense of a state law requiring voters to show a government-issued photo ID. His office also oversees the state securities industry at a time when voters are disgusted with malfeasances by financial firms.

Rokita’s advocacy of a new, less partisan process of redrawing Congressional districts also garnered notice. That didn’t endear him to state legislators, but Rokita says that’s just fine with him.

“My point with either photo ID or redistricting is that I’m willing to stand up and pick up the sword and fight, and I’ll do the same in Congress. That’s the message I’ve been taking around the 4th,” Rokita said. “I’m not afraid to take that lonely vote. I don’t care that legislators get upset with me. We’ve got to do what’s right for the people of the state of Indiana.”

Rokita said that his stances on the photo ID law and overhauling redistricting are “quintessential examples of putting people before politics, even before my own party. The Republican legislators, I think, were the most infuriated with me over redistricting reform.”

Rokita said he raised about $200,000 in February and was on pace to match that amount in March and April.

His opponents are racing to catch up in a campaign that is more like a sprint than a marathon because Buyer didn’t announce his retirement until Jan. 29, barely three months before a primary that will essentially decide Buyer’s successor.

Rokita’s toughest competition comes from state Sen. Brandt Hershman, who also has served as Buyer’s district operations director since he entered the House in 1993. Hershman is running with the Congressman’s endorsement; Buyer’s leadership political action committee sent Hershman a $1,000 contribution last month.

Hershman said he’s the only candidate who has a background in agriculture and is from the northern end of the district, where his state Senate district overlaps with three of the 12 counties in the 4th — including part of Tippecanoe County, which includes Lafayette and is the most populous county in the district.

Hershman has been actively trying to boost his profile in the central and southern reaches of the district where he is not as well-known.

“My history has been to be a very aggressive campaigner, in terms of being willing to work hard and doing 16 to 18 hour days, seven days a week, getting out and meeting people,” Hershman said. “I’ve also got a very strong campaign staff.”

Hershman, who worked in the White House under President George H.W. Bush prior to joining Buyer’s campaign in 1992, said his experience with federal and Indiana issues sets him apart from his opponents and would serve him well in Congress.

“I’ve got a long history of knowing the district and the federal system,” he said.

The other legislator in the race is state Sen. Michael Young, who ran for the 4th district seat in 2002 but placed a distant third to Buyer and then-Rep. Brian Kerns, who ran against one another following redistricting.

Young, whose office didn’t respond to an interview request, is running on a platform that includes repealing automatic pay raises for Members and replacing the income tax with a consumption-based tax.

The other elected officials in the race are Greenwood Mayor Charles Henderson (R), who oversees the city of 36,000 south of Indianapolis, and Eric Wathen (R), a Hendricks County commissioner.

None of the eight other Republican candidates in the race — or the four little-known Democrats — is considered a potential victor.