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Tim Vandenack
Tim Vandenack
In Indiana Buzz, reporter Tim Vandenack blogs on politics, immigration, elections, taxes, errant geese and more.



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Want to run for the 2nd District U.S. House seat as a Democrat? It'll help if you're from St. Joseph County (and have Notre Dame ties)

From 1990 through 2012, only the 2002 Democratic general election hopeful in the area was from outside St. Joseph County.

Posted on April 30, 2014 at 7:08 p.m.

Wednesday April 30, 2014

Does St. Joseph County hold sway in selection of Democratic hopefuls for the 2nd District U.S. House seat?

That's what Dan Morrison, Democratic hopeful for the post from Elkhart County, thinks. And the data seems to suggest as much (scroll down). A connection to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend doesn't seem to hurt, either.

Morrison notes, somewhat ruefully, that he was prodded late last year by some Democratic leaders to stay out of the contest out of deference to Joe Bock, Democratic hopeful from South Bend. And he notes that Democrats in general election U.S. House races in this part of Indiana have come from St. Joseph County going back "for years."

He, for one, doesn't like it and he rebuffed prodding by some Elkhart County Democrats, including Shari Mellin, head of the party here, to stay out of the Democratic primary. "Thank you, but no thank you," said Morrison, who long worked in the recreational vehicle industry in Elkhart County. "I'm definitely running."

He also said he rebuffed a request from the staff of Brendan Mullen ahead of the 2012 Democratic U.S. House primary to stay out of the race that year. Mullen ended up winning the primary (though Morrison won a majority of the vote in nine of the 10 2nd District counties) and served as the party's standard bearer in the general election that November.

"The party likes to pick one person and not have competition and that's not what democracy is all about," said Morrison, vying for the Democratic nomination this go-round along with Bock, Doug Carpenter and Bob Kern.

Mellin said she approached Morrison, asking him to run for the Elkhart County-based District 48 seat in the Indiana House, to be vacated by Rep. Tim Neese, a Republican not seeking re-election. But there was no ultimatum — drop out of the U.S. House or else.

Likewise, Jason Critchlow, head of the St. Joseph County Democratic Party, doesn't think there's bias that favors South Bend area Democrats when recruiting U.S. House candidates. The St. Joseph County party apparatus along with state and 2nd District Democrats have formally endorsed Bock, but it's not because he's from South Bend.

"We believe he's the best candidate. It doesn't matter where he's come from," Critchlow said.

That said, the Democratic Party is much stronger in St. Joseph County than in Elkhart County, where Republicans are the stronger force.

And a look at Democratic U.S. House candidates in the general elections going back several years shows that, in fact, they by and large come from St. Joseph County. Another common thread — a Notre Dame link.

Consider:

  • Joe Bock, the front-runner in this year's 2nd District Democratic campaign, comes from South Bend (at least since 2007) and is an instructor at the University of Notre Dame. Bock has the backing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, aside from the support from Indiana Democratic groups, and easily leads the pack of four Democrats in fund raising.
  • Brendan Mullen, the Democratic general election candidate in the district in 2012, grew up in South Bend and returned to St. Joseph County to run for the U.S. House. Republican Jackie Walorski narrowly beat him and is seeking her second term in this year's race.
  • U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly of Granger (in St. Joseph County) was the 2nd District Democratic pick for the U.S. House from 2004 to 2010. He also received his undergraduate and law degrees from Notre Dame. Donnelly lost in 2004, but followed that with electoral wins in 2006, 2008 and 2010. He ran, successfully, for the U.S. Senate in 2012.
  • Tim Roemer, a Democrat and U.S. House candidate for the area from 1990 to 2000, was born in South Bend and received a master's degree and a doctorate from Notre Dame. He won each time he ran, serving in the U.S. House from 1991 to 2002, when the area was in the 3rd District, before redistricting after the 2000 U.S. Census.

Only Jill Long Thompson, the general election Democratic hopeful for the area in 2002 breaks the mold. She comes from Marshall County and has degrees from Indiana University and Valparaiso University. Thompson lost that year to Republican Chris Chocola, who served as U.S. representative for the area for two terms, from 2003 through 2006. 

Follow reporter Tim Vandenack on Twitter at @timvandenack or visit him on Facebook.


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