WASHINGTON - Democrat Dave Crooks is confident that he’s closing in on incumbent Republican Rep. Larry Bucshon in southwest Indiana’s 8th CD.
    
“Big Mo is on our side,” Crooks said in an HPI interview this week. “Big Mo lives in the 8th District of Indiana. It’s nice to have my phone ring for once rather than me calling everyone else constantly.”
    
Crooks asserts that internal polls demonstrate his momentum. You’ll have to take his word for it because he won’t release the numbers. “That’s privileged information,” said Crooks, a radio personality and former state representative. “I can assure you that it’s razor close.”
    
Former Rep. Baron Hill penned a fundraising letter in late September making similar vague references. “I just got off the phone with Dave, and he shared his internal polling with me,” Hill wrote in a Sept. 27 letter.   “The race is very close, and Dave is within striking distance. He’s counting on us to put him over the finish line. If we don’t help, he can’t win. It’s that simple.”
    
Bucshon, a heart surgeon who first won the seat in 2010 with 57% of the vote, dismisses Crooks’ bravado. “He’s creating a false story because he has a weak campaign,” Bucshon said in an HPI interview.
    
Bucshon tried to combat the perception that he is vulnerable by previewing his fundraising totals for the third quarter prior to the Oct. 15 release deadline. He raised about $400,000 and has $320,000 on hand – his biggest haul of the cycle. “It shows we have a lot of momentum going into this month [before Election Day],” Bucshon said. “I’m optimistic about the level of financial support the campaign has.”
    
As of June 30, Crooks had raised $742,605 with $530,191 on hand. Bucshon had raised $844,566 with $386,851 on hand.
    
Crooks promises strong third quarter results. Unlike Bucshon, he’s not offering a sneak peek.
    
“We’re trying to make sure everything is accurate – that the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed,” Crooks said.
    
Crooks acknowledged that he has reduced his television buys in the Terre Haute and Evansville market. “We made some modest adjustments so I can get to the finish line,” Crooks said. He quickly adds that he is receiving outside help. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee began running an ad in support of Crooks this week.
    
“We’ve made the cut for the most competitive House races, and I’m proud of that,” Crooks said. “We have more resources on the way.”
    
Bucshon is also benefitting from outside help in the form of $114,000 that the American Action Network has spent on ads opposing Crooks.
    
As the DCCC jumps in to try to even the score, the National Republican Congressional Committee trusts that Bucshon can hold his own.“If the DCCC wants to waste money spending on this race, we welcome that,” said Katie Prill, NRCC Midwest press secretary. “This is a Republican seat. Larry Bucshon has been campaigning tirelessly to keep it that way.”
    
The DCCC ad takes aim at an issue that Bucshon has focused extensively in his campaign – health care reform. The DCCC spot criticizes Bucshon for voting in favor of the budget written by the GOP vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan. The Ryan plan would transform current pay-for-service Medicare into a program that provides premium support for participants to buy their own insurance in the private sector or to purchase traditional Medicare.
    
Republicans argue that the reforms won’t affect anyone in or near retirement while preserving Medicare for future generations. Democrats say the Ryan approach would end the Medicare guarantee. “Bucshon takes from Indiana seniors and gives to his special interest friends,” the DCCC ad states. A DCCC spokeswoman said that tying Bucshon to higher Medicare costs resonates.
    
Bucshon’s votes are “not in line with where middle-class families are,” said Haley Morris, DCCC Midwest press secretary. “That’s why you see so many Hoosiers excited by Dave Crooks’ campaign to be an independent voice in Congress.”
    
Medicare attacks don’t faze Bucshon. In fact, he levels his own against the health care reform law, which Bucshon said cuts $716 billion out of Medicare that would otherwise benefit current retirees. “I’m a physician, and I understand the issue very well,” Bucshon said. “I get a positive response on it. [Voters] know that we’re trying to do something to save the program.”
    
Crooks has been trying to shift the focus of the campaign to the economy, arguing that Bucshon has supported trade agreements that ship Hoosier jobs overseas. “He seems to be out of sync with the typical person living in this district,” Crooks said. “He’s running like it’s 2010. The only thing he can talk about is repealing Obamacare. People want to know about jobs. They’d rather see jobs in Indiana than India.”
    
Last fall, when he voted in favor of free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, Bucshon said they would create jobs. “It is imperative that these pending trade agreements be implemented immediately to open new markets for Hoosier exports,” Bucshon said in a statement. “More exports mean more jobs.”
    
Shortly after the vote, Toyota announced that it would export the Sienna model manufactured in Princeton, near Evansville, to South Korea – the first time the vehicle has been sold outside of North America. Early this year, the company announced a $400 million deal to move Highlander production to Princeton.
    
Perhaps the biggest challenge for Bucshon is not one that Crooks can pose. It’s general voter disgust with Washington. “I went [to Washington] to change the direction of the country,” Bucshon said. “We have had some success doing that – changing the conversation from how we spend money to how we save money.”
    
Bucshon will know in less than a month if 8th CD voters will send him back to Washington to continue the conversation. Horse Race Status: Leans Bucshon

Schoeff is HPI's Washington correspondent.