Anti-incumbent wave unlikely to swamp ‘lucky’ Burton

November 1, 2010

U.S. Rep. Dan Burton lives a charmed life.

So says state Democratic Chairman Dan Parker of the 14-term Republican from the 5th Congressional District.

“Congressman Burton is obviously a very lucky person,” Parker said. “He lucked out in 2008, because so many people participated in the Democratic presidential primary and Dr. [John] McGoff came up just short.”

McGoff, who challenged Burton for the Republican nomination that year, had hoped to entice Democrats to take Republican primary ballots and vote for him in one of the most heavily Republican districts in the country. Until, that is, Indiana’s vote in the Democratic presidential primary mattered for the first time in decades, prompting Democrats to take their own party’s ballot to choose between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

“And in 2010,” Parker said, “by having all these folks run, he was lucky again to have them split that vote up.”

Parker was talking about the most recent Republican primary, when six challengers—perhaps inspired by McGoff’s near-miss—split the anti-Burton vote. Burton garnered only 30 percent of the votes, but he still won.

Said Parker: “I think he should probably go to Vegas.”

Not quite yet. First there is Election Day, when Burton is expected to win his 15th term despite what some say is an anti-incumbent sentiment sweeping the nation. As luck would have it, Burton faces three challengers whose views vary little from his own, including a weak Democratic challenger who was disowned by the Democratic Party after defeating the endorsed candidate in the primary.

Two other candidates—a Libertarian and an independent—also have entered the fray, ensuring that the anti-Burton vote again will be divided, likely giving the incumbent the win and leaving a portion of central Indiana with a congressman who commands a deep loyalty from some constituents but embarrasses others.

Burton, 72, is running such a low-key campaign that his blog has not been updated since May, he attends few events, and his campaign’s phone is answered by a machine that does not say what number has been reached. The campaign did not respond to requests for an interview.

District 5 covers all or part of 11 counties, starting south of Shelbyville, looping through the southern, eastern and northern suburbs of Indianapolis and shooting north almost to Fort Wayne.

Though some analysts say this will be a Republican year, Parker said Burton may have been ripe for picking off by a strong challenger. But the Democrats’ chance for that withered in the primary when their endorsed candidate, oncologist Nasser Hanna, was defeated by Tim Crawford, a former Republican and a self-styled tea partier.

Hanna acknowledged that he held back some of his ample financing in preparation for the fall campaign and thus was not as well known among voters as he needed to be.

“The one disappointment that I have,” he said, “is that I thought that the voters in District 5 deserve to have a choice, somebody who would at least provide a perspective that would be different from the sort of anti-government rhetoric that comes from Mr. Burton and, to a greater extent, the Libertarian Party. ... Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat or an independent, the public deserves to hear the point of view of different people to decide who would be a better representative of them. If they’re only hearing one viewpoint, I think it doesn’t serve us very well.”

Burton’s challengers in Tuesday’s election say they offer an alternative.

Crawford, 29, reserves more criticism for the party under whose mantle he is running, but said, “I just think, with all the people saying ‘Vote the bums out’ and ‘The tree of liberty needs to be refreshed,’” that Burton is vulnerable.

“Sure he’s got experience, but you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” Crawford said. Burton’s positions are “somewhat similar to mine” but “the thing is, can you trust him to follow that?”

Crawford, who works part time as a construction job estimator, favors a return to the gold standard and supports the so-called Fair Tax on consumption, which is championed by some congressional Republicans to replace existing federal taxes. He credits his interest in government on his involvement in the church, saying, “God’s law has given me a lot of insight into why our law is the way it is.”

Libertarian Chard Reid, 28, said that he “represent[s] Hoosier values the most accurately and the principles of small government a lot more than congressman Burton and obviously more than Tim Crawford. … Congressman Burton has a real history of being considered a conservative voter, but the truth is he’s been in office for 28 years and he has voted for every budget deficit the Republicans have had, and that’s almost all of them. That’s not a conservative voting record.”

Reid, a Plainfield High School economics teacher and a Republican until two years ago, features on his website Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

That applies both to Burton and the larger picture, he said. “Every election cycle it seems like Americans feel like they have two choices. And they always believe that things are going to get better, and they never get better.”

He calls for a 36-percent cut in spending over four years as the only way to eliminate the federal deficit. “Republicans are very hypocritical in the sense that they say they want balanced budgets and they say that they want to keep the Bush tax cuts, that they don’t want taxes to go up. However, they still want government services, and you can’t have all three. And the truth of the matter is, if you want a balanced budget and you want to keep taxes low. … The only way to get that is through austerity.”

Reid and the independent candidate, Jesse Trueblood, both say they would caucus with Republicans if elected. Trueblood, 54, a seventh-grade social studies teacher in Carmel, said he is a conservative who has voted both Republican and Democratic in the past. He hopes his call for America’s energy independence will resonate with members of both parties Tuesday. As a lifelong teacher, he also hopes to focus on education if elected.

Trueblood has raised less than $1,000; Reid, $16,000; and Crawford, nothing (he said he tells prospective donors to give to charity). Burton recently reported raising $1.1 million through Oct. 13; he has spent $1.2 million—most in the primary—and has about $210,000 on hand.

Despite the disparity in fundraising and thus the ability to get their messages out, each of the challengers thinks his pebble could strike Goliath squarely on the forehead.

“I understand how difficult it is for people to leave the party, to take that leap of faith and go for an independent or even for the Libertarian,” Trueblood said. “It’s kind of uncharted territory. And you hear the argument all the time, ‘Oh, it’s a wasted vote if you vote for the other guy.’ Vote your conscience.

“That’s what I’ve encouraged people to do. If you truly think it will make a difference by sending me as a messenger to the parties that we do have options, then even if I don’t win you’ve sent a message and ultimately that’s what one vote does.”


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