ELKHART — Dan Morrison, Democratic hopeful for the U.S. House, wants a debate ahead of the May 6 primary.
Joe Bock doesn't, apparently, and it's got Morrison crying foul.
"If you can't debate in the primary or in the general election," Morrison said, "you don't deserve to be in Congress."
Morrison, from Elkhart, has put the debate question directly to Bock on three occasions, he said Monday, March 3. Bock, from South Bend, didn't give a direct response the first time, at a January meeting of Elkhart County Democrats, but said no, he wouldn't debate, when Morrison asked him at a Feb. 22 event in Goshen. Bock also declined at a March 1 meeting of St. Joseph County Democrats, Morrison said.
Bock, the leading Democratic hopeful for the 2nd District U.S. House spot judging by funds raised, didn't immediately respond to queries Monday seeking comment. And Morrison, who also unsuccessfully sought a debate ahead of the 2012 primary in the Democratic race that year against Brendan Mullen, said Bock hasn't offered an explanation.
From Morrison's perspective, a debate would give voters the opportunity to size up the Democratic hopefuls, side by side, get a sense of how they respond under pressure.
"It gives a bird's eye view of the candidates," Morrison said. He thinks he'd win in a debate, that Bock "doesn't have a prayer."
St. Mary's College political scientist Sean Savage said Bock's apparent refusal to debate is no surprise. Front-runners in such situations typically have have "nothing to gain from a debate and everything to lose," particularly if a face-off prompts divisiveness, he said.
Aside from Morrison and Bock, the Democratic U.S. House contenders include Bob Kern of Indianapolis, a paralegal, and Douglas Carpenter, an unemployed man from South Bend who focuses on caring for his elderly mother. Rep. Jackie Walorski, the one-term incumbent, is the only Republican candidate.
ST. JOSEPH COUNTY DOMINANCE
Aside from having a commanding lead over the other Democrats in donations, Bock also has the backing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which promotes Democratic U.S. House hopefuls across the country. Bock reported $203,420 in receipts in the last quarter of 2013 and ended the year with $181,907 on hand. Morrison and the other two Democrats didn't report any funds.
The DCCC backing reflects "the party's choice," Morrison said. "That's not the people's choice, necessarily."
Indeed, he lamented what he sees as the dominance exerted by St. Joseph County Democrats in selecting Democratic hopefuls for the 2nd District post, which extends into 10 north central Indiana counties, including Elkhart and St. Joseph counties.
Bock lives in South Bend and works at the University of Notre Dame. Mullen, who beat Morrison in the 2012 Democratic primary and narrowly lost to Walorski in the general election vote later that year, also comes from the South Bend area and had strong backing there.
"You can't tell me the best candidate's coming out of the same city every year," said Morrison, who handled outside sales for Comcast in South Bend before stepping down last November to focus full-time on the campaign.
Whatever the case, Morrison says he's keeping busy on the campaign trail, knocking on doors in the quest for votes. For now he's focusing on Elkhart, South Bend and LaPorte County, but he'll expand to the rest of the district between now and the May 6 primary.
"I can talk to almost anybody if they'll give me the time of day. I can even talk to people who won't give me the time of day, for a couple minutes," he said.