Political Notebook

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Cash flowing into District 51 race

Last-minute money is pouring into the House District 51 race, an unexpectedly contentious contest between incumbent Rep. Dick Dodge, R-Pleasant Lake, and Auburn Democrat Codie Ross.

The two candidates – a longtime public servant and a teacher turned lawyer – have been sparring in mailers and radio and television ads for weeks, a rarity in northeast Indiana races.

The district runs through DeKalb and Steuben counties, but Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics, said the race has created buzz in Allen County as well.

“It’s a lot of money,” he said.

The latest campaign finance reports ending Oct. 8 showed Dodge had raised $88,000, compared with more than $200,000 for Ross. Dodge’s biggest contributor was the House Republican Campaign Committee at $52,000 while Ross’ was the House Democratic Caucus at more than $91,000. Ross also received $60,000 from the Indiana State Teachers Association political action committee.

Dodge had just $3,500 cash on hand for the stretch run compared with $71,000 for Ross.

That wide margin spurred Republican interests into action, though.

From Oct. 12 through Friday, Dodge reported more than $90,000 in large supplemental contributions – $1,000 or higher. Of that, $40,000 came from a pro-Republican PAC, Hoosiers for Economic Growth; $20,000 came from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce’s PAC; and $15,000 came from the Indiana Republican Party.

Not to be outdone, Democratic supporters gave more than $170,000 in large supplemental contributions to Ross between Oct. 14 and Thursday.

This includes more than $100,000 from the House Democratic caucus and $54,000 from the Indiana Democratic Party.

The governor’s political action committee – Aiming Higher – has not weighed in, even though one of its key goals is to get a Republican House majority.

“It’s a rarity,” Downs said of the race. He noted that one of the reasons it has been so competitive despite the district leaning Republican and a nationwide GOP groundswell is that Ross began laying the groundwork to run a year ago.

Crocodile Daniels

Gov. Mitch Daniels opted against Captain Hook and instead will fill the role of Crocodile for this year’s trick-or-treat hours at the governor’s residence in Indianapolis.

He and his staff will dress as characters from “Peter Pan,” though first lady Cheri Daniels won’t participate because of a broken foot.

The governor will pass out assorted candy provided by Indiana companies, including chocolate bars from DeBrand Fine Chocolates of Fort Wayne; chocolate-dipped pretzels from Schimpff’s Confectionery of Jeffersonville; and chocolate-covered mints and fruit jells from Zachary Confections of Frankfort.

Trick-or-treaters also will receive jump ropes from Project 18 and Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent.

Daniels and staff have dressed up the last five years. Other themes have been “The Wizard of Oz,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” the Indianapolis 500, the 1950s, and “Alice in Wonderland.”

Outside cash

The candidates and their supporters in Indiana’s three closest U.S. House races will spend more than $13.5 million on ads, polls and other election activities, in part because of dramatic increases in spending from activist groups not directly tied to the campaigns.

The races in the South Bend-area (2nd District) and the two districts in southern Indiana (8th and 9th) are the most expensive of the nine Hoosier congressional races.

The non-partisan Campaign Finance Institute’s review of reports filed by the candidates and advocacy groups shows that advocacy groups have spent $3.3 million, about $2.2 million of that to bolster the campaign of Republican Jackie Walorski, who is trying to unseat Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-2nd. The candidates have raised $2.7 million – $1.6 million by Donnelly, $1.1 million by Walorski.

The fight between Rep. Baron Hill, D-9th, and Republican Todd Young has drawn $5.2 million; $1.6 million of that from advocacy groups. The race between Republican Larry Buschon and Democrat Trent Van Haaften in the Evansville area has cost a combined $2.1 million.

By contrast, the Marlin Stutzman-Tom Hayhurst campaign in northeast Indiana will cost about $1.2 million with almost no spending by outside groups.

Council primaries

Even as they prepare for this week’s midterm election, some Fort Wayne voters will have contested primaries to look forward to next year.

At least two Republican nominations for City Council positions will be contested, according to recent announcements and actions.

Jim McCoy last week filed paperwork to create an exploratory committee to seek the 5th District seat currently held by Democratic Councilman Tim Pape. If McCoy runs, he would likely face Melissa Ann Hicks, who sent a press release this month announcing her intention to seek the seat as a Republican. She has already started a website at electmelissaannhicksforcitycouncil.webs.com.

GOP voters will also have a choice in picking a nominee for the 2nd District, currently held by Democratic Councilwoman Karen Goldner.

Jerome Gaines announced last week that he plans to run for the position and will formally kick off his campaign on Nov. 17. He would face local businessman Donald Bobay, who announced his intentions to run for the seat last month.

Goldner said she plans to seek re-election but likely won’t make a formal announcement until January.

The 5th District’s Pape said he hasn’t made a decision, “but I’m leaning heavily toward it (running).”

Small statement

The Fort Wayne City Council was able to find unanimity on only two proposed budget cuts last week, and one of those was supported by the administration – cutting the redevelopment commission’s $10,000 legal budget in half.

The other was the vote to eliminate salary increases for elected officials. While the amount was small, $4,649 for the nine council members, clerk and mayor combined, Councilwoman Goldner said it was symbolic to show that the council members understood the pain felt by many constituents.

Councilwoman Liz Brown, R-at large, questioned the effect of that symbol after the council approved giving regular city employees a 1 percent raise, at a cost of $843,010. Brown proposed the majority of the cuts to the council last week, the majority of which failed.

Political parties

Allen County Republicans and Democrats will both be partying Tuesday night, regardless of the results.

Supporters of each party are encouraged to attend the events.

Democrats will be at Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 166 Hall, 2930 W. Ludwig Road, beginning at 6 p.m. Republicans will be at Ceruti’s Summit Park, 6601 Innovation Blvd. Both will offer food, election results and speeches from officials.

Sylvia A. Smith, The Journal Gazette Washington editor, contributed to this column.

To reach Political Notebook via e-mail, contact Benjamin Lanka at blanka@jg.net or Niki Kelly at nkelly@jg.net. To discuss this entry of Political Notebook or others, go to the Political Notebook topic of “The Board” at www.journalgazette.net.

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