THE BLOG

Dispatch From The Bloody 8th of Indiana

09/25/2010 02:58 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It's been known for decades as "the Bloody 8th" because of its contentious Congressional races, but pundits say Indiana's 8th District is unusually quiet in the weeks leading up to the November election.

"It's been kind of strange," said Brian Howey, publisher of Howey Politics Indiana, of the
race between Democrat Trent Van Haaften and Republican Larry Bucshon. The two are competing for the seat to be vacated by U.S. Rep. Brad Ellsworth, D-Ind., who is running against Republican former Sen. Dan Coats for the seat being vacated by Sen. Evan Bayh, D-
Ind.

Recent models are predicting Bucshon will win the seat, said Brian Vargus, a professor of political science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Vargus suggested a couple of reasons for the low-key race. Bucshon, an Evansville heart
surgeon, got his name out in the May primary, Vargus said, when he beat Tea Party candidate Kristi Risk in an eight-way race with 33 percent of the vote. Van Haaften, a member of the Indiana House of Representatives, was uncontested and had no need for an aggressive primary campaign.

"My sense is the Democratic campaign has never come together, unless they're doing what Ellsworth does and waiting until two weeks before the election," Vargus said.

Bucshon, on the other hand, "probably has numbers that show him pretty safe, so he has no reason to talk to anyone and no need to expose himself."

Bucshon's office has not responded to e-mail and phone requests from Eyes and Ears.

The tone of the race so far is markedly difference from that of previous 8th District
contests.

"From 1970 through the early to mid-80s, the district essentially turned over every two years," said Ed Feigenbaum, publisher of Indiana Legislative Insight. "It was the most volatile district in the country."

The term "the Bloody 8th" probably goes back to 1984 and the race between Democrat
Frank McCloskey and Republican Richard McIntyre, Vargus said. The 1984 race ended up in
a recount by the Democrat-controlled House, which gave McCloskey four more votes than
McIntyre.

"One could argue that was what first brought Newt Gingrich to national attention," Vargus said. "He led a walkout of Republicans to try and unseat McCloskey."

In 1995, the district followed the national Republican wave, electing conservative John Hostettler over McCloskey. Hostettler served until 2007, until he was unseated by Ellsworth, a conservative Democrat.

Vargus said the district, which is Indiana's largest, has a "boll weevil Democrat" culture in a
heavily Republican state: It's socially conservative, tinged by racism and heavily influenced by the southern-style politics of neighboring Kentucky.

But the character of the 8th could change in 2011, Feigenbaum said, when the Indiana General Assembly reconfigures voting districts. How the district lines are drawn will be determined by who wins Ellsworth's seat.

If Bucshon wins by a narrow margin, he may do what he can to shore up the 8th district by adding areas that tend to vote Republican, Feigenbaum said. If he wins by a large margin, he may be asked to give up part of the 8th to the neighboring 9th District, where incumbent Democrat Baron Hill is taking on Republican Todd Young.

Feigenbaum said it's too early to tell how the Bucshon-Van Haaften race will play out.

"I don't know either of them has made enough of an impression on voters in southwest Indiana for voters to understand what it is they're buying," he said.