ELKHART — They shook hands. They gave speeches and made vague proclamations. They ate Polish sausages, or at least bought them.
Monday was the day after Easter, Dyngus Day — the informal kick-off to the political season in northern Indiana — which meant candidates and other political types were out in full force, looking for votes. In Elkhart, they didn't disappoint, converging on the Knights of Columbus hall — site of the main Dyngus Day activity in the city — to rub elbows with the public.
Mike Pence and Jackie Walorski, the Republican gubernatorial and U.S. House hopefuls, respectively, showed up in a bus with 50-plus supporters, making perhaps the splashiest entrance. But there were others there as well, maintaining a lower profile — the hopefuls for the Elkhart County Council, for instance, and candidates for the Indiana House of Representatives.
As politics moves front and center in the lead-up to the May 8 primary,talk about the need for more jobs was, perhaps, the most common refrain, as omnipresent as Polish sausages and pierogies, Dyngus Day staples.
THE FEDERAL CANDIDATES
Ÿ Walorski: She mugged for pictures with supporters, got a Polish sausage, gave away the Polish sausage and cited “jobs” — the lack of jobs, actually — as the key issue. The former state lawmaker from the Elkhart area, a Republican, is seeking Indiana's District 2 seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Her focus diverted every few seconds from well-wishers wanting to shake her hand or get a picture, it was hard to get much more than a quick sentence or two at a time from Walorski, who visited Elkhart for only about 20 minutes. Ÿ Dan Morrison: Social Security and jobs were tops on the mind of the Democratic hopeful for the District 2 U.S. House seat.
The Social Security system is solvent until 2037, so politicians should stop bringing it up as a “scare tactic” issue in the contest. The need to create jobs “not just for Hoosiers but the entire country” also ranks up there.
“People are upbeat spring is here. I don't think they're upbeat about the economy and I don't think they're upbeat they're getting too much Social Security,” said Morrison, regional sales manager for an Elkhart County recreational vehicle manufacturer.
Ÿ Brendan Mullen: Dyngus Day was busy for the South Bend native, who caught the evening crowd at the Knights hall.
The event in downtown Elkhart was his 13th stop of the day and wasn't the last. Mullen, a Democrat, said he and his campaign team have been working day and night to make his hopes of becoming the next District 2 U.S. representative a reality.
“We're working 18 hour days because it's that important to us,” he said. “We're touching every inch of the district to talk to folks that are looking forward to the future. Right now, we need practical, common-sense solutions to help, not hurt every man, woman and child. Right now, coming out of Washington, those career politicians are providing nothing but ideological partisanship.”
THE STATE HOPEFULS
Ÿ Pence: The GOP gubernatorial hopeful, traveling to Dyngus Day events around northern Indiana with Walorski, called for “an even better Indiana.” Job creation, he also said, “has to be job one” of the next governor.
“We're going to be talking about jobs and schools and public safety and public education,” he said.
Moments later, addressing the Knights of Columbus crowd, he called the Polish sausage at the hall “the best ... I've had in my entire life.”
Ÿ Tim Wesco: The Republican incumbent in the District 21 Indiana House seat said the economy “is always on the top of everybody's mind.”
He is unopposed in the May 8 primary. “Isn't that a wonderful thing?” said Elkhart County Commissioner Terry Rodino, waiting with Wesco to board the Walorski-Pence bus making the rounds to the varied Dyngus Day events.
Ÿ Tim Neese: The incumbent District 48 state representative noticed that the Dyngus Day crowd seemed larger than in past years.
The Republican spent his time at the Knights hall speaking with voters and fielding questions about the past legislative session and what's to come.
“There have been a number of questions about universal health care, about jobs and what we can do to make our state more competitive,” he said.
Ÿ Jerry Brewton: The economy was on the mind of the Bristol insurance agent, who is challenging Neese in the Republican primary for the District 48 Indiana House seat. “I think jobs have to be the number-one priority,” he said.
Revoking unnecessary restrictions would be one means to generate new jobs, and he also noted his own business experience. “I've created jobs. I know what it is to create a budget and have to stay within it,” said Brewton, a former member of the board of Concord Community Schools.
ELKHART COUNTY CANDIDATES
Ÿ John Letherman: The long-time Elkhart County Council member popped in for lunch at Dyngus Day to greet voters and speak to them about his bid for re-election. Letherman is seeking his seventh term on the board.
“There's value in that experience,” said Letherman, who has served on the council since 1989. “Our biggest thing we need to do now is finish a lot of projects that we've got going and then try to figure out how to shrink the size and the cost of local government while at the same time being fair to the people that work for us. I don't want to lay a bunch of people off. I want to get smarter, better and more efficient. If we can do that, we'll be able to do what we do and cost the taxpayers less money.”
Ÿ David Ashe: Seeking his second term on the Elkhart County Council, Ashe let the voters do the talking Monday evening.
“I just like to talk to them about whatever they want to talk about,” he said. “The good thing about Dyngus Day and events like this is that I get a chance to talk to a lot of people and get an idea of their concerns.”
Topping the list of those concerns, he said, were the economy and what can be done to fix it on a local level.
Ÿ Jason Obendorf: Though he is no stranger to Dyngus Day festivities, it was Obendorf's first time seeking support there as a candidate.
“This is an upbeat, personable event,” he said.
He sifted through the throngs of people to introduce himself and his plans to serve on the Elkhart County Council. The first-time candidate touted plans to improve fiscal responsibility and his support for local businesses.
Ÿ Randy Wilson: Though he has been spreading the word door-to-door since March, Wilson said his campaign for an at-large post on the Elkhart County Council is picking up speed.
Two big issues have been at the forefront of conversations with voters, he said. One is exploring alternative, more efficient energy sources, and the other is education.
“I think it's important to look at education for children from an earlier age, from preschool, because we're falling behind,” he said.
Ÿ Arvis Dawson: The executive assistant to Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore didn't have to stump for votes since his boss, a Democrat, was re-elected last year. That didn't seem to bother him.
“It's always more relaxing when you're not running in a race,” Dawson said.
Still, he's involved in the campaigns of President Obama, U.S. Senate hopeful Joe Donnelly and U.S. House of Representatives hopeful Brendan Mullen, all Democrats.
Ÿ Susan Chilberg: The Elkhart County tea party activist was attending the Knights of Columbus Dyngus Day activity for the first time in her life. She wasn't at a lack for opinions, though.
Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Richard Mourdock, challenging GOP incumbent Dick Lugar, needs to be voted in “because he is a true conservative.” She also touted Walorski and Neese in their races.
Ÿ Jim Barnes: Among the few Democrats present during Pence and Walorski's arrival, he eagerly awaited Mullen's appearance.
A retired physician, Barnes said health care is an important issue to watch in the congressional races.
“I think we should improve the affordable health care act, not repeal it,” he said.