Last week Brad Ellsworth, candidate for Senate in Indiana, released a campaign report to reassure his supporters and any undecideds that yes, really, he can actually win against Dan Coats in November. He even declares “this race is ours to win – and I have the numbers to prove it” on his website. This is a bold statement considering that Rasmussen has him down 14 points. So what exactly are these magical numbers of wonderment?
The report begins by touting that Ellsworth has been crisscrossing the state and talking with Hoosiers. We get a map of Indiana with photos of the Democrat talking with nice people, and a photo of a small group of supporters holding signs. That’s nice, but seriously. If he hasn’t been doing that, he’s not really running for office, is he?
We also get a quote from a Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette declaring that the “ex-sheriff wears independent badge in Senate race.” A quick internet search reveals that this was an article written by Sylvia A. Smith. People outside northeastern Indiana might not get the significance here, so let me spell it out: Ellsworth is being touted by a notoriously liberal journalist in a notoriously liberal newspaper. Big surprise.
On page 3 Ellsworth brings out what is obviously the central weapon in his election strategy, judging from his campaign releases and the Twitter chatter of his surrogates: shouting “Sheriff!” and “Lobbyist!” an awful lot. You see, Ellsworth is a former Vanderburgh County sheriff, while Coats served for a time with a lobbying firm between his previous stint in the Senate a decade ago and now (he did other things, including serving as U.S. ambassador to Germany). The report touts a poll showing that people generally have a high opinion of sheriffs and a low opinion of lobbyists.
Of course, this is true. In the absence of all other factors, yes, Joe Average Voter will favor a sheriff over a lobbyist. But the Indiana Senate race is no such vacuum. Ellsworth has served for 4 years in the House of Representatives, while Coats previously served 10 years in the Senate. As hard as the Democrats are pushing the whole “sheriff vs. lobbyist” theme, the voting records of the two men are far more relevant in judging their fitness for office.
The report also touts some politically damaging associations that Coats has as a lobbyist, supposedly supporting Bank of America and a company connected with the government of Venezuela and Hugo Chavez. The thing is, Coats denies lobbying on behalf of these organizations and has provided evidence showing he had no personal involvement with them. As much as Democrats have tried to attack Coats’ disclosures, they haven’t yet provided any proof of their most damning accusations.
It’s true that Hoosiers generally respect law enforcement, as our police haven’t had the scandals some other places have. And it’s true that lobbyists are looked down upon everywhere, in spite of the fact that lobbying is actually a Constitutionally protected right. But the suggestion that Hoosiers will be swayed by these previous occupations ahead of the far more logically relevant comparison of voting records is a big insult to the intelligence of Indiana voters.
Next Ellsworth points out that Dan Coats got only 39% in the Republican primary. Ellsworth claims that’s because of Coats’ weakness as a candidate. That’s one possibility. Another possibility is that the primary actually had several very qualified candidates and that voters had a tough choice. In my opinion, Marlin Stutzman, John Hostettler and Don Bates would all have made very fine Senators. The strength of the pro-Stutzman sentiment was quite strong as we saw in the aftermath of Mark Souder’s resignation, as he easily won the bid to replace him in the race for Indiana’s third district. Besides, it’s hard to imagine that a man who has won statewide office before somehow doesn’t have what it takes to do it again.
Next up, the magic of internal polling. In spite of what some fly-by-night outfit like Rasmussen might say*, Ellsworth’s own polling show the race to be a dead heat. No, seriously, it does! When people are presented with the “facts”, the race turns into a 45-45 dead heat.
Can you say “push poll”, boys and girls? I knew you could. I’ll give Ellsworth a tiny bit of credit. Apparently the “facts” given are not all praising him while trashing his opponent. They stay positive for both candidates, according to the report. But those “positive facts” do find a way to emphasize Coats’ long stay in Congress and say that Ellsworth has been an “independent” voice in Congress, something a lot of people would dispute.
I didn’t take part in this poll, so I don’t know what questions were actually asked. I have been push polled before, one that was blatantly obvious, and I usually react negatively to having my intelligence insulted like that.
Finally, Ellsworth touts his fund-raising prowess, remarking at this point he’s raised far more money than Coats. Of course, given that Evan Bayh’s $12 million re-election fund won’t be used for its intended purpose, well, it’s good to be the Democrat. Plus the little known secret of campaigning in 2010 is that the old assumption that Republicans are friendly to big business and always have a fund-raising advantage is woefully out of date.
Left unaddressed in the report is how Ellsworth plans to explain certain votes on his record, particularly voting twice for a health care reform law that the majority of Hoosiers want to see repealed. There’s also no explanation as to why the supposedly pro-life Ellsworth has been a much less than reliable pro-life vote, so much so that Indiana Right to Life has dropped their support of him. That’s the rub. It will continue to dog him until November and it’s why he’s trailing by 14 points right now. He may stray from Democratic Party orthodoxy once in a while, but for the big stuff, when Hoosiers have really wanted him to stand against Nancy Pelosi, he’s chosen to stand with her instead.
Granted, I can understand how hard it is to take a stand against the party leadership right now. It doesn’t make him a bad person, per se. But it does make him a bad Congressman, and it will make him a bad Senator. I hear he’s a good sheriff, though. Maybe Brad Ellsworth ought to go back to that.
*Yes, I know Democrats like to rip Rasmussen, and they do tend to ask questions that paint Republicans in a better light, but when it comes to predicting the actual results of an election you’d be hard pressed to find anyone more accurate.