Saturday, May 17, 2008

Nels Ackerson Versus the Staggering Power of Incumbency

Have you heard of Nels Ackerson? He's the Democrat challenging incumbent Republican Congressman Steve Buyer in the 4th District of Indiana.

You remember Buyer? The soldier congressman who said in 1992 he was for term limits. Then he realized once elected that with the right amount of PAC money and some good redistricting plans, he could keep the job for life. Yeah, we call that blatant hypocrisy.

Then there’s Ackerson. On paper, the guy is impressive. In fact, if he had military experience, he might have the best resume for the 4th district of any human being alive. It's the right mix of private experience and public service, Indiana roots and international roamings.

He's a lifetime family farmer and Farm Bureau member. Purdue University Student Body President. Outstanding male graduate of Purdue with an ag sciences degree. Harvard law degree and masters from the Kennedy School. Chief Counsel for the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution under Birch Bayh. Founder of Sidley Austin’s office in Egypt, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt. Legal and economic development work in 16 countries. Ackerson is in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in THE WORLD. He has a thriving national law practice (cases with clients in 48 states), but his office is based in Indiana. From his website:

“In recent years, Nels has succeeded in class actions that have made tens of millions of dollars in compensation available to thousands of Hoosier farmers, homeowners, small businesses and other property owners for property taken from them without their consent and without compensation by governments and by huge railroad and telecommunications companies.”

If this guy is good on the stump, where’s the downside?

Well, the 4th District is no picnic, unless it’s the kind of picnic where rain pours into your potato salad. In 2004, Buyer’s opponent, David Sanders, a well-meaning but way too wonkish candidate, got 28% of the vote. In 2006, Sanders got 38% while “raising” and spending only $133,000 ($100,000 from a self-loan) to Buyer’s $744,000 raised and $536,000 spent.

Here are the numbers:

Sanders, David Avram (Democratic) -66,986
Buyer, Steve (Republican) - 111,057

Sanders, David Avram (Democratic) - 77,574
Fleming, Kevin R. (Libertarian) - 6,117
Buyer, Steve (Republican) - 190,445

Sanders’ ten percent improvement from ’04 to ’06 was because overall turnout fell off in the non-presidential year. In 2004, Buyer got 30,000 votes out of Tippecanoe County. In 2006, Buyer only got 17,000. Instead of Sanders’ seeing a 13,000 vote pickup in Tippecanoe, he suffered a net loss, going from 18,000 to 15,000 votes.

In short, this district has strong R leanings, and the heavier the turnout is, in your average year, the more likely the Democrat is hosed. But this is not your average year. It is doubtful that either Obama or Clinton would fare in Indiana as poorly as Kerry did, given that both the front-runners campaigned heavily here.

Also, the Ackerson’s campaign should be jazzed by the 83,000 votes Nels’ 83,000 in a PRIMARY. That is more than Sanders got in either general election.

In a year when Republicans are seemingly in jeopardy everywhere, Ackerson could sneak up on Buyer if he can marshall the resources to compete. On that score, Ackerson is no slouch. In fact, FEC reports show that for contributions raised from the start of the election cycle until the pre-primary report, April 16, 2008, Ackerson actually OUTRAISED Buyer $306,000 to $297,000.

But sadly, this is less than half of the story. Even though Buyer had token primary opposition, a torrent of special interest money hit his bank account just before May 8. Thirty large in PAC money, folks! The “smart money” (also known as the special interest money) generally plays the odds, and with Buyer being in an R-leaning district, it will come in droves.

And therein lies the problem. By virtue of having token opposition in 2006, Buyer amassed a carryover war chest, more than half of which was raised through PAC donations. Buyer’s cash-on-hand as of the last report was $492,000 to Ackerson’s $150,000 as of 4-16-08. Ackerson has received virtually no PAC money. He will either need to find a LOT of wealthy new donors (which will require him to go out of the district more), or he’ll need $5,000 from every labor PAC in American to make a go of this thing.

In this year, anything is possible.

As an aside, a certain blogger I know lambasted Andre Carson for raising $30,000 in PAC money just before his primary election. This blogger, I’m sure, will be appalled to know other Congressmen in his party wear the same shoe, and he'll be denouncing Buyer soon. Look at this late-in-the-day Buyer haul:

Vectren - $1,000
Pfizer - $1,500
Jewelers of America - $1,000
CTIA PAC - $1,000
Am Veterinary Medical Assoc - $1,000
Am Electric Power - $1,000

American Chiropractic - $1,000
American Maritime Officers - $1,000
Dow Chemical - $1,000
Duke Energy - $1,000
KochPac - $1,000
Nat'l Assoc. of Psychiatric - $1,000
Nat'l Telecom - $1,000
Zimmer, Inc. - $1,000
Walsh for Congress - $1,000

Embarq PAC - $1,000
GE - $1,000
ITT International - $1,000
Lorilland Tobacco - $1,000
McKesson Corp - $1,000
Nat'l Assoc of Health Underwriters - $1,000
Nat'l Funeral Directors - $1,000
4-24-08- American Committe for Rural Electrification - $1,000

Halliburton - $1,000
Abbott - $1,000
Nat'l Fuel Gas - $1,000

DTE Energy - $1,000

Yeah, Lorilland Tobacco and Hallilburton's interests coincide with the voters of the 4th District. Might one also think that the health insurance underwriters are going to fight expanded healthcare coverage?




Anonymous said...

Nels is a great guy. He was a great guy back in 1980 when he ran for congress. He lost.
Some reasons Nel lost in no particular order:
1) His party nominated in convention an incumbent President who had no chance of winning.
2) The Indiana Dem Party had a primary fight between Hillenbrand and Townsend; sound familiar
3) He had a rough district to run in.

Nels should have ran the last time when he really did have a chance of winning. As was the case in 1980his timing is way off.
He's a great guy and deserves a win but it's not going to happen. The people at the top of the Dem ticket will take him down....again.

Anonymous said...

Steve Buyer, the man who lied to Congress about being on active duty in Iraq, wanted to use nuclear weapons in Afghanistan, and who session after session has the worst voting attendance record of any Indiana Congressman. I guess it's probably a good thing that he doesn't show up.

Anonymous said...

I think it's a bit premature to saying that the top of the Democratic ticket or timing will take this guy down. Betting against the underdog simply because he's the underdog is bad logic.

Sure the district has a history of Republican leanings. But Republicans had a history of fiscal conservatism and small government. Things change. Indiana might have as well.

In my view it's important when assuming that past trends are the best indicator of the future to remember the case of the turkey. For 364 days a year the farmer gives him a free meal. The turkey is never more confident in his position then on the morning when he is most in trouble.

If Nels has the talent, and the tenacity, I don't think timing will undo it. After all, anyone who's read Buyer's attendance, his voting record, or his offensive and partisan attacks knows that Steve Buyer's sort of a turkey. Perhaps this November will go differently...

Big Doofus (Roger) said...

Conservatives like me in the 4th District are waiting for a new candidate they can rally behind. Many of us are very tired of Steve Buyer. I'd consider voting for your guy if I could figure out where he stood on the social issues that are important to me.

I'm a conservative, but I've popped over to your blog a few times in the past few days. I like to have friends on both sides of the spectrum.

Roger in Avon