How Democrats Just Lost Indiana's 7th Congressional District
by Vox Populi, Sun Jan 13, 2008 at 03:17:50 PM EST
As most of you are aware, Congresswoman Julia Carson succumbed to a battle with lung cancer in December. Indiana's 7th Congressional District is the second most Democratic in the state, and includes most of the largest and capital city, Indianapolis-Marion County. Several well-qualified Democrats entered the race, along with the Congresswoman's grandson, freshman City Councilor Andre Carson. A full rundown on the major candidates seeking to replace Mrs. Carson can be found on my recent BlueIndiana diary.
At Julia Carson's funeral, several members of the Congressional Black Caucus endorsed Andre Carson for Congress. They essentially turned her funeral into an Andre for Congress rally. Immediately after, the Democratic machine, much of which was built up by Mrs. Carson, started lining up behind Andre. They leaned hard on other Democrats to try and prevent other Democrats from challenging him for the seat. The machine did see some success, with former Mayor Bart Peterson--probably the most popular Democrat among Indianapolis Democrats--saying he wasn't interested and endorsing Carson.
On January 12, 2008, precinct committee members met in a district-wide caucus to select the Democratic nominee for a Special Election to be held on March 11. Out of 599 possible voters, 440 showed up to vote. Only 73% of these "highly engaged" activists bothered to show. On the first ballot, with 223 votes, Andre Carson was able to claim victory. 223 party insiders made a decision that may affect the political shape of the district for years to come.
I have had the argument with a pro-Andre blogger who believes that precinct committeemen aren't party insiders, that they are the partisan foot soldiers who turn out the vote on Election Day and devote their lives to Democratic politics. I worked the caucus. I saw these precinct committee members. Most of them are old enough to collect Social Security benefits. I met one who had to be aided by her daughter because she was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. I talked with one committee member who wanted to support State Representative David Orentlicher, but told me she was voting for Carson instead so she could "go home early."
In terms of background, there were also claims of dirty politics. Several of the Democratic candidates who purchased precinct committee member lists from the county party were provided with outdated, incorrect lists. It is well known that county employees and party employees were actively lobbying committee members on behalf of Carson. Needless to say, Mr. Carson was one of the candidates who received an accurate, updated list.
The Party did not take the time to listen to its voters. Andre Carson is a blank slate. At the lone candidate forum, he managed to say there may need to be residual troops left in Iraq, that being gay is a choice, and that he doesn't believe in Universal Health Care. The Republicans have nominated a pro-choice, gay-friendly, 30-year-old moderate as their candidate. He is smart, likeable, and was able to defeat State Representative Ed Mahern, a Democratic leader and architect of Indiana's 2001/2002 redistricting plan. That was in a solidly Democratic district in a Democratic wave year, 2006. Jon Elrod is a Republican that moderate and anti-nepotism Democrats will vote for over Mr. Carson, who has served just 4 months on the City County Council.
In 2007, our Democratic mayor and several Democratic city councilors lost their quest for reelection and city government flipped to the Republican Party. This was party due to the tax issue, but also because of increasing corruption and incompetence in the party leadership. By nominating Andre Carson, the insiders showed they didn't learn their lesson from last November.
State Representative Carolene Mays, one of the candidates in the caucus, released a poll that showed Carson in a dead heat with Jon Elrod. Skeptics charge that Julia also polled in "dead heats" when she ran. Republicans never supported her, but she was able to be the candidate of a unified Democratic Party to victory. We all loved Julia. But Andre will not retain that loyalty. A lot of Democrats, especially those outside Center Township (the physical center and most urban area of the district), are supporting other candidates and truly believe Andre is not qualified for the job. Many of these voters, me included, are either skipping out of the Special Election or supporting Jon Elrod for the seat and getting behind another candidate for the May primary.
On March 11, a normally safe-Democratic seat will either go to the Republicans, or be won by a blank-slate Democrat by a smaller-than-normal margin. Either way, our party failed us, and until we can crash the gates, they will continue to do so. For now, we focus on the May primary and hope for a defeat of the Democratic machine, and a victory for a progressive with a record.