ELKHART — At times, Dan Morrison didn't feel much love.
Hanging around at some of the Dyngus Day events in South Bend last month among more establishment Democratic Party types, for instance, he got the impression he was persona non grata. Dyngus Day is the informal kickoff to political campaign season in northern Indiana, and among St. Joseph County Democrats it's a bedrock institution.
“It was just like I was a telephone pole there,” the Elkhart man recalls.
As such, in vying as a Democrat for the Second District seat in the U.S. House against Brendan Mullen — who had long secured support among establishment St. Joseph County Democrats — he took a more circuitous route to campaigning. He pounded the pavement and knocked on doors.
“I'd take my car out to a neighborhood, get out and walk 10 to 15 miles a day,” he said Thursday. “I just kept going, every day, 10 to 15 miles, 10 to 15 miles.”
He ended up losing, 54 percent to 46 percent, in Tuesday's primary to Mullen — it was the first campaign ever for both of them — but his old-fashioned, grassroots effort seemed to have an impact.
Morrison outpolled Mullen in nine of the 10 counties in the Second District, including Elkhart County. Mullen — though he had backing of some party bigwigs and spent more, perhaps around $100,000 compared to $4,000 by Morrison — won the race only because of his strong showing in his native St. Joseph County.
Mullen moves on to the Nov. 6 general election, like Jackie Walorski, who romped to victory in the Republican primary Tuesday. But for Morrison, who works as a manager at Trail Creek RV in Nappanee, the surprise showing serves as a vindication of sorts.
“I know I was making progress,” said Morrision, who turned his telephone off late Tuesday night amid all the primary buzz and wasn't available for comment untill Thursday. “People were excited to talk.”
If only he'd had a few more weeks to campaign in St. Joseph County, he laments. If only he'd started his campaign sooner.
In prepping for his campaign, Morrison, 62, completed a training session in South Bend for candidates offered by the Democratic Party. At that, after parting ways with $2,500, he got access to the list of Democratic voters in the Second District from the last three primaries.
Using the list, he or his volunteer assistants, students from Indiana University South Bend, would map a route in some corner of District 2 for door knocking. Generally alone, Morrison would drive out to the appointed locale and get down to business, thinking of Abe Lincoln and the pavement pounding that helped launch his political career way back when. That's how it was for the two months leading up to Tuesday's vote.
“From my perspective, face-to-face connections will win the election,” said Morrison, who could loosely be described as a conservative Democrat. “So that's what I did — face-to-face connections.”
Most people were receptive to his cold calling — he was careful to skip homes not on the list of Democratic Party voters — even in the roughest neighborhoods of South Bend. Some had never talked to a political candidate before.
“The reason I was able to come out of nowhere was because ... I didn't have any fear about knocking on doors of people I didn't know,” he said.
Following Tuesday's vote, Morrison has turned his support to Mullen and has offered him whatever help he needs. But he's long dreamed of serving in a political post, particularly the U.S. House of Representatives, so don't count him out. He's already thinking about the possibilities two years from now.
“It was just a great time,” he said of his run. “I enjoyed every minute of it.”