It was hard to tell that Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, was running for re-election during his speech at a Republican Party rally in Fort Wayne this month.
Stutzman heaped praise on Senate candidate Richard Mourdock and gubernatorial nominee Mike Pence. He made a plug for presidential candidate Mitt Romney. He announced he was organizing a bus trip, nine days before the Nov. 6 election, to aid the campaign of a fellow congressman in northeast Ohio.
A seemingly safe district for Republicans, coupled with a shoestring budget for his Democratic rival, has allowed Stutzman to stay out of the partisan fray in his first bid for re-election.
Until Friday’s debate at IPFW, Stutzman had pretty much ignored Democratic challenger Kevin Boyd.
“It’s up to our opponent to make it a race,” Stutzman said in an earlier interview. “It’s important for him to raise the money, to make the race a contested one, to raise awareness on his candidacy.”
Campaign finance reports show that Stutzman had raised nearly $837,000 in contributions through September and had more than $314,000 in cash available for the last five weeks of the race. Boyd had attracted only $40,500 in contributions and had less than $12,300 in cash for the homestretch.
“I don’t see any reason for me to go out and talk about what he’s doing,” Stutzman said about Boyd. “I’m just going to keep talking about what I’m doing. I figure if I do my job right, the campaign will take care of itself.”
Stutzman won 63 percent of the vote in 2010 against well-funded Democratic candidate Thomas Hayhurst, who had received 66 percent against Boyd and two other candidates in the 2006 Democratic primary election.
Stutzman succeeded eight-term Republican incumbent Mark Souder, who resigned in May 2010 after acknowledging an extramarital affair with a female staff member. The district has elected only one Democrat since 1976: Jill Long, who won a 1989 special election and was re-elected in 1990 and 1992.
A congressional seat pays $174,000 a year, and a term lasts two years. Republicans have 240 seats in the House to 190 for Democrats, and five seats are vacant.
Indiana’s 3rd District consists of Adams, Allen, DeKalb, Jay, Huntington, LaGrange, Noble, Steuben, Wells and Whitley counties and parts of Blackford and Kosciusko counties.
Boyd has tried to build support through a series of town-hall meetings and candidate forums throughout the district. At a town-hall meeting in a Columbia City library, Boyd listed his priorities as:
•Renewing the farm bill, which stalled in the House after the Senate passed it. “Marlin Stutzman was one of the ones fighting,” Boyd said.
•Strengthening public schools and teachers. “We are turning our schools into a for-profit industry, and that’s not right.”
•Protecting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid from proposed overhauls by Republicans. “Social Security is the best anti-poverty program we’ve ever put in place.”
Boyd suggested bolstering Social Security reserves by raising the $110,000 cap on annual payroll taxes that funds retirement benefits.
He also said he opposes right-to-work legislation, which prohibits labor unions from requiring workers to pay representation fees.
“When unions have been strong, the middle class has been strong,” Boyd said.
And he doesn’t think that independent political action committees should be able to make unlimited contributions to political campaigns, the result of the Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case.
“We are not sending leaders” to Congress, Boyd said. “We are sending followers, people who have sold out to special interests before they event get there.”
Boyd criticized the Republican House as “the most dysfunctional, polarized, do-nothing Congress in history,” saying it had “put off, stonewalled, blocked legislation after legislation that would actually get our economy moving, get people back to work and get things going again.”
He criticized Stutzman for not campaigning more.
“He rarely gets to places where he can talk one on one with people,” Boyd charged. “He brings somebody else in to do the talking for him.
“I can’t speak to his motivation. By his fruit you will know him,” Boyd said.
Twenty people attended Boyd’s campaign appearance in Columbia City, a couple more than turned out for a Stutzman town-hall meeting a few days later at a reception center in Roanoke.
Stutzman, a member of the House Budget, Agriculture and Veterans’ Affairs committees, said his main goals include improving job opportunities for military veterans, emphasizing vocational education in schools to fill a “skills gap” in the economy and reducing regulatory burdens on businesses, particularly from those rules imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration.
“Ninety percent of the folks who come in and talk to us in our office have problems with the EPA,” Stutzman said.
He favors repealing the federal health care law, boosting border security and limiting federal lawmakers to 18 years in office.
As for his opposition to the proposed farm bill, Stutzman said, “It’s become a food stamp bill.” He noted that 10-year projections for food stamp spending have soared from $260 billion in 2002 to $700 billion this year.
“I have an amendment to split the two and make it a real farm bill,” he said.
Stutzman said he is frustrated by an increase in efforts to bypass “regular order,” in which bills are considered by committees before advancing to debate on the floor of the House and Senate.
“It seems like we pass more bad laws today than we pass good laws,” he said.