By CHRIS SAUTTER
WASHINGTON – There’s a little known fact
about Democratic congressional challengers in Indiana. They only defeat
Republican incumbents in midterm elections. The last time a Democratic
challenger knocked off a Republican incumbent to win a seat in the U.S
House of Represenatatives in a presidential year was in 1964 when Lee
Hamilton defeated Earl Wilson in the 9th District. Since 1964 Democrats have defeated congressional Republican incumbents
only in off-year elections—1974, 1982, 1990, and 2006. No Democratic
Senate candidate has won over an incumbent since Birch Bayh upset 3-term
incumbent Senator Homer Capehart in 1962. So why have Hoosier Democrats only won in midterm elections and why are they not more competitive in this year’s election?
One simple answer to the first question is that Indiana is a Republican
state — the “reddest” in the Midwest. The GOP presidential nominee
almost always wins in Indiana with coattails large enough to ensure
re-election for incumbent Republican members of Congress, while
occasionally picking up additional seats held by Democrats. Unlike other
states, in Indiana the presidential year only voter is more likely to
vote Republican than Democrat. The Democratic presidential nominee has won Indiana only twice since
1940 — in 1964 and 2008. Lee Hamilton readily admits that Lyndon
Johnson’s landslide victory paved the way for his first win in 1964.
Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 over John McCain was too narrow to have
coattails. However, Democrats picked up three congressional seats in
2006 in the most competitive districts in the state — the 2nd, the 8th,
and the 9th — rendering a Democratic congressional pickup in 2008
unlikely in any event.
The answer to the second question is that midterm elections are
historically bad for the party in the White House. Since World War II,
the party controlling the White House has lost seats in every midterm
election except two--in 1998 and 2002. Indiana Democrats have only
knocked off House Republicans in midterm elections when Republicans
controlled the White House. This year, only one Democratic challenger—Joe Bock in Indiana’s 2nd
District—appears to be mounting anything approaching a serious campaign.