The result is an awkward relationship for Carson with his own party, to say the least. While the state and national Democratic establishment have supported Carson as he faces Republican state Rep. Jon Elrod in next month’s special election, they haven’t yet endorsed him in the May 6 primary as he faces three well-known local Democratic officials for the nomination to seek a full term representing the 7th District.
So as Carson campaigns for the seat, he may be receiving as much criticism from some of his fellow Democrats as he is from Elrod. Already, state Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker has issued an implicit warning to the party’s leading primary challengers — state Reps. David Orentlicher and Carolene Mays and former state Health Commissioner Woodrow Myers — to take pains to keep such a negative campaign from hurting Carson’s chances during the special election period.
“The other candidates have been focused on raising money. They’re not doing anything to affect the outcome on March 11, which would not be viewed kindly by other Democrats,” said Parker.
But some of the criticisms have already been made. Mays, the publisher of a leading African-American newspaper, who sought the nomination for the special election, released a poll last month showing Carson defeating Elrod by only 3 points, despite running in the most Democratic district in Indiana. Other primary rivals have signaled that Carson, 33, will be criticized as too inexperienced to serve in Congress.
The concerns about Carson’s electability aren’t just limited to his primary opponents. The cash-flush Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has also pulled out all the stops to make sure the reliably Democratic seat remains in the party’s hands.
The all-out blitz is attempting to ensure that Carson doesn’t get caught by surprise by Elrod, his Republican challenger, who has a history of scoring some political shockers.
An attorney by trade, Elrod was first elected to the state House in 2006 by eight votes in a solidly Democratic district, unseating a veteran Democratic incumbent who drew the district’s lines to help his own reelection bid. That win followed Elrod’s largely symbolic victory to serve on a township board in a heavily Democratic part of Indianapolis.
But Elrod, who is only 30, sounds less like an up-and-coming political operative and more like a technocrat focusing on serving his constituents. In contrast to Carson, who is running on Iraq, health care and the economy, Elrod said he’s focusing his campaign on “fiscal reform and constituent services” — hardly the ideological gruel on which most congressional campaigns are run . . .
I had no inclination to be in politics. Until recently, I never had been involved in a campaign. I never was a Young Republican; I never even was involved in student council,” Elrod said. His emphasis on getting things done may prove compelling in Indianapolis, a Democratic-leaning city that has shown a propensity to vote for Republicans lately.
Elrod’s state legislative victory in 2006 foreshadowed several GOP upsets to come. Last year, a little-known retired lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps, Greg Ballard, upset two-term Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson despite being outspent 11-to-1 and receiving little support from his own Republican establishment.
And Julia Carson struggled to fend off an underfunded Republican challenger in her 2006 reelection bid, even as three Democrats ousted incumbent Republicans in a huge year for statewide Democrats.
A Democratic pollster who recently conducted polling within the district said that two major issues have played to GOP advantage in recent years: property taxes and rising crime. In fact, Elrod attributed his own win, in part, to the fact that largely working-class Democrats in the city have been willing to split their ballot because of their dissatisfaction with skyrocketing tax assessments.
“To win a legislative district in the heart of Indianapolis from a longtime incumbent Democrat in 2006 in Indiana is no small feat. People have correctly taken notice,” said the Cook Political Report’s House analyst David Wasserman.