GREENFIELD — With just over a week until Election Day, candidates for Indiana’s 6th Congressional District are making a final push to be sure their ideas strike a chord with voters.
The district spans all or parts of 19 counties, including Hancock, which was drawn into the district this year. With the incumbent, Republican Mike Pence, running for governor, the seat is wide open to three newcomers.
Republican Luke Messer, Democrat Brad Bookout and Libertarian Rex Bell are vying for the seat. But with only one formal debate among them and boundaries stretching from Muncie to the Ohio River, all acknowledge it’s been hard to reach potential voters.
Still, one candidate has a clear cash edge. Messer, of Shelbyville, raised over $930,000 for his campaign. Bookout, by contrast, raised about $55,000; and Bell, $7,000.
“We’re on track,” said Messer, whose campaign has included everything from grassroots handshaking to television commercials. “We feel good about where we are. We’re not going to take anything for granted. We’re going to keep working through Election Day.”
Bookout and Bell say such a stash of cash shouldn’t be viewed so positively.
“The best way I’m competing with (Messer) is just letting everybody know where his campaign contributions are coming from,” said Bookout, a Muncie-area builder and economic development consultant.
Bookout points to special-interest groups that have contributed to Messer’s campaign.
While a vast majority of Messer’s contributions – about $650,000 – came from hundreds of individuals throughout the district, about $233,000 came from political action committees including financial, oil and medical groups, according to the candidate’s campaign finance report.
“Those commitments are not in the best interest of Hoosiers,” Bookout said.
Bookout, 39, says when he goes door-to-door, he explains where he stands, along with pointing out where Messer stands.
“This district is huge, it’s gerrymandered for my opponent. They drew (Messer) into this huge, giant 6th District,” said Bookout, referring to the GOP-controlled state Legislature, which redrew district boundaries. “He hasn’t been talking a lot about himself, and people don’t know a whole lot about him, so I think it’s important that people know who he is.”
But Messer says Bookout’s campaign has taken a negative approach in recent weeks.
“I have a proven record as a conservative who stands on principle, and I’ve shown that in the General Assembly,” said Messer, a former state representative.
Messer, 43, is the president and CEO of Hoosiers for Economic Growth network, a nonprofit advocacy group focused on education reform.
He said his campaign has been going on for over a year. He also campaigned in 2010. Messer ran for Congress in the 5th District and came in second behind incumbent Rep. Dan Burton in the seven-way race for the GOP nomination. While he lost by two percentage points overall, in several counties, including Hancock County, Messer had the majority of votes.
Messer says he’s pleased with the support he’s received from Hancock County. Local contributors to his campaign include several GOP elected officials, including Mayor Dick Pasco and Commissioners Brad Armstrong and Tom Stevens.
William Hall of Greenfield is the only Hancock County resident to be listed in Bookout’s financial report. But Bookout says he’s pleased with the work he’s been able to accomplish along the campaign trail. He says with the help of volunteers, the campaign has been able to knock on over 60,000 doors.
In a press release this week, Bookout called on Messer to officially withdraw his support for U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock over his comments on pregnancy in the case of rape.
Messer asked Mourdock to apologize, but says he is not going to withdraw his support and that the request is another negative approach to campaigning.
Meanwhile, Libertarian Bell has the least amount of money for campaigning, and he’s hoping his platform of limited government connects with voters.
“Hopefully as a third-party (candidate), I can come in there and I wouldn’t be bound by the partisan agreements they’ve made,” Bell said. “Basically, if a person is elected Republican, they end up kind of being forced to go with the Republican hierarchy – and the same way with Democrats. They may have good intentions when they’re elected, but we’ve seen it happen too many times before. But I think as a Libertarian, I can go in there and support a bill on its merits.”
Bell, 60, is a construction contractor from Wayne County. He says he’s “burned a lot of shoe leather and a lot of gas” going to various events across the district to spread his message. He acknowledges limited funding and name recognition are roadblocks.
“I’m looking forward to the day candidates get elected by the amount of money they leave with taxpayers as opposed to the amount of money they take from taxpayers,” Bell said. “In that case, I’d be in the lead.”
All three candidates say the No. 1 concern facing the 6th District is the economy.
Bell says he’d like to eliminate income taxes, both individual and corporate. Eliminating corporate taxes, he said, would automatically spur job growth across the country.
Messer also says he wants the district to prosper economically. That and the nation’s spending levels are two areas Hoosiers are concerned about, he said.
“They’re worried that we’re spending this country into oblivion and leaving enormous debt for our kids and grandkids,” Messer said. “And they’re concerned we get our economy back on track and provide more opportunities for jobs.”
Bookout created a campaign book of statistics and ideas for bringing more business into the district.
“The No. 1 thing is jobs,” Bookout said. “Not just jobs, jobs, jobs; but careers, careers, careers. We have to have sustainable, private-sector job growth.”