Familiar Names Vying For S. Indiana Congressional Seat

by Rick Howlett on October 28, 2008

On November 4 voters in Southern Indiana’s 9th congressional district will see some familiar names on the ballot when they select a candidate to represent them in the U.S. House.

WFPL’s Rick Howlett spoke to the three candidates and has this report.

For the fourth consecutive time, Democrat Baron Hill and Republican Mike Sodrel are vying for the 9th District seat. Hill, the incumbent, has won two of the three previous races. They’re joined on the ballot by Libertarian Eric Schansberg, who also ran for Congress in 2006.

Not surprisingly, all three say the state of the economy has dominated their conversations with voters during most of the fall campaign.

Baron Hill first captured the 9th District seat in 1998, when it was vacated by longtime Congressman and fellow Democrat Lee Hamilton.

A former financial analyst for Merrill Lynch, Hill (pictured at right) voted against the financial rescue package approved by Congress this month. He says it was weighted too heavily in favor of the people on Wall Street who helped create the economic predicament.

“I have a feeling that they all knew that it was all going to come tumbling down, and they would be going to the federal government for a bailout at some point,” Hill said. “So with those thoughts in mind, there was no way i was going to vote for it.”

Hill says the package was rushed through Capitol Hill, and lawmakers were not given enough time to assess what impact the legislation would have if enacted, or to consider alternatives.

Republican Mike Sodrel says he would have voted against the rescue plan, too:

“I mean its like these people have lost their minds,” Sodrel said. “My dad used to always say, ‘Son, you can’t borrow your way out of debt.’ Maybe somebody would think that’s oversimplified, but part of the problem is there doesn’t seem to be any common sense inside the beltway.”    

Sodrel (pictured at right), who owns a trucking business, believes Congress could have taken other, less expensive steps to address the financial crisis, such as a suspension of the capital gains tax for two years.       

Libertarian Eric Schansberg (pictured below) is an economics professor at Indiana University Southeast. He says the government has been trying to shore up the economy for the past year, and should have taken a lighter approach.

“No one knows for sure, but if we had just taken our lumps and had our typical mild recession nine months ago, we probably would have just emerged and back to our usual stuff,” Schansberg said. “The market wasn’t allowed to do its thing.”

The three candidates say voters are also concerned about fuel costs, health care reform and the war in Iraq. On energy, all three support expanded oil drilling as part of a broader policy, although Hill would limit drilling to the outer continental shelf.    

A Survey USA poll conducted last week gives Baron Hill a sizable lead in the 9th District race, 54 percent of the vote, with Sodrel getting 39 percent and Schansberg receiving five percent. Two percent of those surveyed said they were undecided.

Political scientist Linda Gugin says she’s not surprised by those numbers. The Indiana University Southeast professor says Sodrel was lifted to victory in 2004 in part by President Bush’s popularity in the conservative leaning district, but he’s not going to benefit from the coattail effect this time.

“I don’t see similar factors present that would be helping him this time around, I mean the last poll I saw for the Obama-Mccain race was that Mccain was winning in Southern Indiana by four points, and for Southern Indiana, that’s pretty close together,” Gugin said.

Round four of the Hill-Sodrel battle has included the usual rhetoric-heavy campaign ads, but Gugin says the attack ads seem a bit softer this time around and not as heavy on social issues.

“And I don’t know why that is, whether it’s just the presidential race has subsumed everything else, because people seemed to be really focused on that. They seem to see this as one of the most critical presidential races in a very long time.”

The presidential race is expected to boost voter turnout in Indiana’s 9th congressional district.

(Photos of Hill and Sodrel courtesy of wikipedia.org.   Photo of Schansberg courtesy of his website)

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