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Smoke-filled room edition


Fort Wayne Reader


Mark your calendars for Saturday, June 12!

That’s when the 500+ Republican precinct committee people from Indiana’s 3rd Congressional District will caucus in the Columbia City High School gymnasium to choose a candidate for the GOP ticket from among the 73 contenders who want to replace Mark Souder.

That “73” above was a slight exaggeration. As of this writing, there are 15 people vying for the seat, among them Fort Wayne city council member Liz Brown; local business owner Bob Morris; Indiana News Center anchor Ryan Elijah; Rachel Grubb from Auburn (we interviewed her in FWR #139); and the three candidates that challenged Souder in the primary — Phil Troyer, Bob Thomas, and Greg Dickman.

Once again, those are a few of the folks who said they want the seat. They have until June 9 to file and make it official, but we might even see a few more people enter the race by then.

Fort Wayne City Council member Mitch Harper (R-4) took part in a congressional caucus back in January 1989, and gave us a little insight as to what goes on. Harper believes that the leaders will emerge pretty quickly during the caucus, but with such a wide field of candidates, it might be difficult to get the 50% needed to become the official nominee. “There’s a limited ability for a candidate to swing votes, because (voters) make idiosyncratic decisions and no one really controls huge blocks, so it becomes a matter of attrition,” says Harper, who also maintains the blog Fort Wayne Observed (fortwayneobserved.com). “You may end up with a candidate that shows weakness in different geographic areas but ends up being the overall winner because they are not as objectionable as someone else.”

“I hate to say this, but sometimes in a caucus, the victor can schlump to victory.”

The ballots usually come very quickly, one after the other, so there’s not much time for a candidate to “work” the precinct committee people during the caucus, and there’s not as much time for huddling in smoke-filled rooms as there used to be.

Still, when PA mentions that the process seems pretty old-fashioned, Harper replies: “If that were only so.”

Many decades ago, the entire political process centered around precinct committee people, who would run for election every two years, choose the party chair for the county, and do the door-to-door work needed to motivate party voters. But both parties, fearing undue influence by outside groups, began to change the rules in the 80s. Among the many changes: precinct committee people no longer had to live in the precinct they represented. “So, you’ll have people voting for congress, where several of them might reside in the same precinct in Aboite Township, but they’re voting for Republican voters who live far, far away,” says Harper. “That’s a bad thing, and it’s the fault of both parties. I think it makes a caucus a little less legitimate.”

“So is a caucus old-fashioned? In a lot of ways, that system would be preferable because it’s more representative.”

Stutzman with the pitch…

One candidate who does not seem content to “schlump” to victory is State Senator Marlin Stutzman. He’s proven pretty aggressive in his own campaign to woo voters, inviting precinct committee people and their families to a TinCaps game and cookout the week before the caucus, and he’s picking up the tab. The invitation reads: “ Come out and meet Marlin and share your thoughts, but most importantly, have a free night of fun with your family and fellow Republican Committeemen!”

Though the ploy has raised some eyebrows, it isn’t illegal. Whether it translates into fellow feeling and the votes Stutzman needs is anyone’s guess, but the day a free cookout and baseball game loses their powers of persuasion in Northeast Indiana is the day we might as well take down the state flag and hook up with Ohio.

And really, we’re hoping automobile-dealership owner Bob Thomas will counter with an Oprah Winfrey-style campaign of his own: “You get a car! You get a car! Everybody gets a car!”

And furthermore…

Just to confuse you a little bit, Governor Mitch Daniels has said there will not be a special election this summer to fill Souder’s seat for what would have been the remainder of the former Congressman’s term. The Governor said he couldn’t justify the expense. Instead, the election to find someone to serve out the remainder of Souder’s term will happen November 2. So, conceivably, a candidate could win that election, only to have to turn over the keys a couple months later in January.

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