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Catching up with the Hayhurst campaign

The Democratic candidate for the US 3rd District Congressional seat charges ahead

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2010-10-04


During a heated election year, predicting the strategies and outcomes of political races seems to rank near baseball as the nation’s favorite past time.

Yet despite the constant stream of pundits telling you what’s going to happen weeks or months before it actually does, you’ll still hear the maxim “but anything can happen” added as a cautionary note at the end of even the most self-assured bit of forecasting.

And perhaps no candidate for public office in our part of Indiana knows the truth of “but anything can happen” like Dr. Tom Hayhurst, the Democratic nominee for the 3rd District US Representative seat.

When we interviewed Hayhurst nearly a year ago, close to the launch of his campaign, it was pretty much assumed that he would once again be facing incumbent Mark Souder when November 2010 rolled around. The eight-term Republican Congressman had plenty of challengers seeking the GOP ticket, but he nevertheless won the primary, and politicos looked forward to a re-match of the 2006 3rd district race between the two candidates.

But “anything can happen,” and sometimes it does. As we all know, just weeks after the primary, Souder admitted to an extra-marital affair with a co-worker, and resigned his seat. Republican precinct committee people caucused in June to find a replacement candidate, choosing State Senator Marlin Stutzman from a crowded field after just three rounds of voting.

So, as the 2010 campaigns enter the post-Labor Day home stretch, Hayhurst finds himself facing not the opponent he had such a good run against four years ago, capturing some 46% of the vote, but an unknown quantity, a candidate many conservatives consider a “rising star” in the GOP, and someone unencumbered by the sort of political baggage the former congressman from Grabill had accumulated during his 16 years in office.

During the events of last May and June, Hayhurst seemed to take the high road, wisely refusing to comment on the situation with his former opponent. “I’ve never focused all that much on personalities,” he says. “I’m much more into ideas than personalities.”

And he adds that his political strategy did not change all that much either. “I’ve been in different forums with my new opponent, and I think that a lot of what he says is very similar to Representative Souder, so I think this is a continuation of the campaign that was in progress before. I don’t think we’ve changed a lot, other than to be energized, and realize that without the technicality of an incumbent in office with massive automatic name recognition, that gives our campaign a boost.”

Actually, Hayhurst has been working on his own name recognition for well over a year. A physician and Fort Wayne native who represented the 4th district on Fort Wayne’s city council from 1996 through 2008, Hayhurst told FWR in 2009 that one of the biggest challenges he found during his previous run for US Congress was getting his message out to a district that takes up a big chunk of Northeast Indiana, encompassing Allen, Whitley, DeKalb, Kosiusko, Noble, Elkhart, LaGrange, and Steuben counties.

So, for the past year, he’s been speaking at meetings, making appearances and talking to people wherever he can, going door-to-door. And, for a Democrat running in a pretty conservative area, meeting as many people as possible is essential, especially since Hayhurst’s message and the issues central to his campaign seem to directly address the most pressing problem facing Northeast Indiana: the economy. “The most common question, or two questions, or 10 questions all relate to the economy,” he says. “That dominates everything else. There’s just a huge level of frustration out there in Northeast Indiana.”

Hayhurst acknowledges that talking about jobs and the economy is nothing new in an election year, but anyone who has followed his campaigns recognizes that there’s a particular urgency in the way Hayhurst thinks about the issue. To the point, Hayhurst sees the economic crisis we’re going through now, with the unemployment rate in Indiana over 10%, as having ramifications that go to the very core of our society. “Frankly, we need to make rebuilding middle America, working America, our #1 goal the next couple of decades,” he says.

Several ads from the Hayhurst campaign that hit the airwaves over the last couple months attempt to put the economy front and center. One ad touts Hayhurst’s experience and credentials, but another ad — we’ll call it the “enough is enough” ad — takes a more aggressive tone than what someone might be used to hearing from the even-tempered candidate. In this ad, the words NAFTA and CAFTA are superimposed over images of closed factories and empty fields, while Hayhurst insists that it’s time to put an end to Wall Street bailouts.

Populist fervor is supposed to be the purview of conservatives this year, but once again, one of Hayhurst’s central concerns has always been addressing our nation’s trade policies and the devastating effect they’ve had on the economy of northeast Indiana in particular. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons he decided to run for the office in 2006 and this year. “What I could not do as a Fort Wayne city council member or an economic development director is really try to rebuild the economy in Northeast Indiana,” he says. “I think we need to be very vigorous in shifting our international trade policy towards a trade policy that looks out a lot more for American workers. It’s rigged now to make it very easy, almost to encourage, shipping jobs overseas, and make it really hard to ship products overseas.”

Hayhurst points out that a country like China — where he says around 8 million US jobs have gone in the last decade — seems to have the whole system “rigged” to be able to produce goods cheaper. “Not just because they have cheaper labor; it even goes beyond that,” he says. “Their currency is rigged to make it very difficult for us to export products into China, to their growing middle class, and it makes it very easy for them to export products to us. We’ve been in this mode of shipping the jobs over there, but not products.”

With regard to bailouts, Hayhurst makes it a point to say no more Wall Street bailouts. “Frankly, with regard to General Motors, I would have supported that. But Wall Street bailouts… the problem was that we let too many companies get too big. I think we need to take an approach very similar to what was taken years ago with regard to Standard Oil. I think if a company is so big that they’re going to drag down the entire economy and throw us into a recession or depression if they go down… they just shouldn’t allowed to get that big. I think that’s the role of government to make sure we don’t get ourselves into that situation with a company like AIG, for instance.”

Many of the economic issues Hayhurst talks about — the bailouts of 2008, NAFTA and other trading policies — were the result of a bipartisan initiative, but Hayhurst is well aware that many conservative candidates this year, including Senator Stutzman, take the stance that almost any kind of government regulation is antithetical to economic growth.

“Look, there really is a middle ground,” he says. “Most economists agree that lack of regulation of financial firms was a major factor leading us in to this catastrophic situation back in ‘07 and ‘08. And wide-open free trade… well, the word ‘free’ is a nice word, but wide-open free trade has severely damaged our economy. It has resulted in our shipping all kinds of jobs over to other countries, and setting up a situation where we’re having a hard time shipping products we make around the world.”

Also, as a physician, Hayhurst says he’s asked a lot about healthcare and the healthcare reform act passed this year. As political hot potatoes go, it’s a particularly incendiary one, with many conservative candidates promising to repeal the act if they’re elected (and some Democratic incumbents campaigning on the fact that they didn’t vote for it). Hayhurst didn’t get a vote, obviously, though last Spring before it was passed he said that he thought government should go back to the drawing board.

Now that it’s been passed, he doesn’t believe it should be thrown out — he thinks that there are some very beneficial provisions in there regarding pre-existing conditions; tax credits for small businesses; and “filling in the donut hole” for those on Medicare part D, just to name a few. “The major reason we need to make sure we fix the healthcare situation is economic: half the bankruptcies in Indiana are directly related to health care debt,” Hayhurst explains. But there are three or four glaring problems I’d like to take a look at. I’d like to make sure that health insurance companies are able to compete very, very vigorously with one another. If you get car insurance, you can get 10 quotes; I think (something similar in the health care industry) would drive billions of extra dollars from health expenditures.”

He’d also like to require that pharmaceutical companies bid for the right to provide medications to those covered under the new health care law, under Medicare part D. “The VA already does it, and vets get good medication very economically,” he says. “That’s a market-oriented measure that I believe is very important.”

Last year, when FWR interviewed Hayhurst, he deflected questions about his opponent (or the guy we thought was going to be his opponent), saying that he felt the race was about something bigger than the personalities involved. The reason he was running, he said at the time, is that he didn’t see “ anything being done about very worrisome downhill trends in the number and quality of jobs in Northeast Indiana.”

While these days, Hayhurst seems more willing to respond to questions about his new opponent, the issue of Northeast Indiana’s dire economic situation is still what matters most to him, and he’s hoping voters will see him as someone who will work to find pragmatic solutions to the problem. Pragmatism is a tough sell in a political atmosphere where “I’m willing to reach across the aisle” usually means “come over to my side or else,” and in the 3rd district race, the Republican candidate seems perfectly comfortable basing his entire campaign on ideological lines, with very little specific to the district for which he is running — it seems less a platform than a spray of 2010 Republican talking points fired from a Blunderbuss (recent mailings suggest that the State Senator thinks he’s running against Nancy Pelosi).

But Hayhurst believes that it’s the polarization in Washington DC that has citizens frustrated and tired. “Most of these problems are bipartisan,” says Hayhurst. “I don’t see why we can’t work in a bipartisan way to fix them.”

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