WASHINGTON – Rep. Mark Souder, R-3rd, said Wednesday he is “very troubled” by Matt Kelty and publicly distanced himself from the Republican Fort Wayne mayoral candidate.
After backing another Republican in the GOP primary in the spring, Souder endorsed Kelty three weeks before Kelty was indicted on perjury and campaign finance charges.
In an interview Wednesday, Souder said Kelty and his campaign continue to demonstrate a lack of judgment. The most recent example was a joke birthday cake that disparaged other Republicans.
“The election is turning a lot on his judgment ability,” Souder said, “and this did not help.”
Souder, who has known Kelty for many years and worked with him on the staff of Sen. Dan Coats, supported Kelty’s opponent in the primary. But after Kelty won, Souder appeared at his side and described him as the candidate “who can best lead Fort Wayne into the future.”
On Wednesday, his enthusiasm had dimmed.
“As the congressman of this district who basically agrees with the issues Matt has raised, I can’t see myself publicly endorsing (Democrat Tom) Henry, but I am very troubled,” Souder said.
“Obviously I had concerns in the primary,” he said, which were compounded by “the grand jury indictments, the cake, which is a little thing, and some other things that have happened since, and there are many that aren’t public.”
Souder said anyone who would vote – or not vote – for a candidate because of a birthday cake with a questionable joke theme “has a problem.”
But he said of the cake: “There was a vindictiveness to it that was immature. … While this isn’t a major thing, it adds to concerns about judgment.”
Even if Kelty is eventually found not guilty of perjury, Souder said, the fact that the indictment was handed up “suggests that at least a jury of his peers felt there were judgment questions involved here that needed to go to trial. Matt Kelty can ill afford questions about judgment.”
When Souder endorsed Kelty, he described the legal investigation as “an attempt to influence the election through the court process. This starts to look like a harassment tactic.”
Souder, the most senior elected Republican in northeast Indiana, said Wednesday that how people handle themselves in awkward situations can be telling.
“A fundamental question is why do his supporters, rather than trying to bring the (Republican) party together, want to reopen those wounds? It shows also a lack of political judgment.
“The next mayor is going to have to bring a divided city together. Is that how you do it? Look, the birthday cake is a joke. But even the joke you tell under pressure is a little sign of your maturity or your judgment.”