Shailagh Murray of The Washington Post has an interesting article today about the Coats/Ellsworth Senate battle for Evan Bayh’s vacant seat. The piece focuses on Ellsworth, and raises some real questions regarding whether or not he can overcome Coats’ early lead in the polls, or gain some much-needed name recognition by November.
Ellsworth, 51, has taken few legislative risks during his two House terms, sticking mainly to local interests. He ensured Indiana hardwoods were included as eligible materials for green building incentives in the stimulus bill. He helped to remove federal barriers that restricted the yields of Indiana tomato growers. He secured funding to improve the lock system on the Ohio River.
At the state fair, Ellsworth met local pork industry officials over a lunch of "garbage burgers," pork patties topped with pulled pork barbecue, and got an earful about a stalled trade agreement with South Korea that is worth about $10 per hog for Hoosier farmers. The officials didn’t understand why the Obama administration couldn’t get the deal done.
"I hear you," the congressman reassured Michael Platt, executive director of Indiana Pork. "But you’re seeing more and more Democrats open to trade agreements, provided they’re fair to American workers."
Ellsworth supported three pillars of the Democratic agenda – health care, the stimulus and the financial regulatory overhaul – but voted against the climate-change bill that passed the House last summer. He opposes abortion and federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. He won the endorsement of the National Rifle Association over Coats, who supported several gun-control measures during his tenure in Congress.
He favors extending the full menu of 2001 tax cuts that are scheduled to expire at the end of the year, including preserving lower rates for the top income brackets – a position that could put him at odds with Democratic leaders and the White House.
"In this fragile economy, although they did add to the national debt, now is not the time," Ellsworth said of the taxes in an interview last week between campaign events.
Yet he does not shy from his party affiliation. "We Democrats have nothing to be ashamed of," Ellsworth told 35 Democratic activists who assembled in Indianapolis on a hot weekday afternoon in August for campaign training. The dingy room was cluttered with binders, water bottles and telephone lines, the signs of a busy election office. Canvassing guidelines taped to the wall instructed volunteers to "knock and take a step back" and "bring dog treats."
So what do you think? Will party trending hurt Ellsworth in November? Does he have a shot to win?