As the pundits look for the congressional races likely to come down to the wire this year, there is one that many may miss. Indiana’s Eighth Congressional District voted 62% to 38% for President Bush over Senator Kerry in 2004. By all accounts, it is a conservative place with a conservative, six-term, Republican incumbent in a reliably red state. But a closer look reveals a serious opportunity for the Democrats and an overall fascinating race from the standpoint of party identity in this turbulent era.
Sullivan describes the politics of the 8th District as "populist" and "a place where anti-Washington rhetoric plays well." He sees Ellsworth as "youthful" and "more conservative than some Republicans – openly and (apparently) sincerely religious, staunchly opposed to compromise with illegal immigrants and pro-military." Although Ellsworth has directed anti-Washington rhetoric at Hostettler, Sullivan acknowledges the challenge Ellsworth faces. Noting his refusal to take PAC money and his reliance on an army of volunteers to eke out close races where he is typically outspent by his opponents, Sullivan thinks Hostettler "makes it hard for Ellsworth’s relatively standard “inside-the-beltway” critique to stick." As Sullivan sums it up:
Populism is always part of a minority’s strategy, especially in this country. But the people can be an unstable basis for a political party, ironically enough, and candidates like Ellsworth might take the Democrats whither they dare not go. How Hostettler meets such a challenge, and whether Ellsworth is willing to bring it, make this a race worth watching.