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Bruising campaign doesn't deter Mark Souder in 3rd

Fought ‘lapsed conservative' label, won 48% of votes

Wednesday, May 5, 2010 - 2:42 pm

Mark Souder survived – and even thrived – through a brutal primary campaign to seek his ninth term in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Souder won 48 percent of the votes in the 3rd District. He did even better in Allen County, where he picked up 51 percent of votes cast in the Republican primary Tuesday. His strongest rival, auto dealer Bob Thomas, won 34 percent of the vote. Fort Wayne attorney Phil Troyer won 16 percent. Auburn mobile-home park owner Greg Dickman won 3 percent.

Thomas and Troyer both painted Souder as a sort of lapsed conservative. That pressed Souder to spend much of his time in the campaign defending himself against criticism of his votes for TARP, which provided hundreds of billions of dollars for shaky financial institutions in 2008, or cash-for-clunkers, the measure designed to revive sagging auto sales in 2009. Souder said this may help him outflank likely Democratic campaign tacks this fall – such as saying he hasn't done enough to preserve jobs.

Democrats “will have a tough time convincing people I don't fight for jobs in the district,” Souder said Tuesday.

In an unusual departure from his past campaigns, Souder wasn't in northeast Indiana as results came in. He returned to Washington, D.C., during the day Tuesday, he said, so he could attend a briefing on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and tend to other legislative tasks.

The Thomas campaign issued a statement late Tuesday, saying, “We congratulate Congressman Souder on his victory and pledge to support his efforts, as well as the efforts of Republicans around the country, to take back the United States House of Representatives for the GOP.”

A poll released last week by the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW showed the race being considerably closer than it turned out to be, with 35 percent support for Souder and 29 percent support for Thomas. Political observers in Fort Wayne weren't surprised Souder came through with a strong margin.

“He's probably the greatest political strategist I know,” said Allen County Commissioner Nelson Peters. “He knows how to play the cards. He knows how to read the polls.”

“If there's a surge of angry people, they're waiting to give their retribution to the president's party in the fall,” said Fort Wayne City Councilman Mitch Harper, R-4th.

Elsewhere, Republican Rep. Dan Burton squeaked out a victory with 30 percent of the vote against six challengers in his bid for a 15th term in the 5th District.

“We were hoping to have a bigger majority, but there is a lot of anti-incumbent sentiment, and I'm sure there are some people who don't like me too much after all the years I've been in,” Burton said. Burton, the state's current longest-serving representative, had faced criticism for his long time in office. He finished just ahead of former state Rep. Luke Messer, who received nearly 28 percent of the vote. Finishing third with 19 percent was Indianapolis physician John McGoff, who nearly upset Burton in the 2008 primary.

Burton will face Democrat Tim Crawford, a construction worker from Noblesville, in November to represent the 5th District, which stretches from suburban Indianapolis north into several rural counties.

Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita won a crowded Republican primary race to become the likely replacement for retiring GOP Rep. Steve Buyer in the 4th District. The race for Buyer's seat became a sprint among 13 candidates after he announced in late January that he would retire after 18 years in Congress.

Rokita easily defeated second-place state Sen. Brandt Hershman, Buyer's district director who was endorsed by the representative.

The 4th District, which stretches from the Lafayette area through the western and southern suburbs of Indianapolis, is heavily Republican. Buyer typically won with more than 60 percent of the vote — including twice over Purdue University professor David Sanders, who again won the Democratic nomination Tuesday.

Tight races for GOP nominees were decided in a pair of swing districts in southern Indiana. Republican voters picked Bloomington attorney Todd Young to challenge Democratic Rep. Baron Hill in the 9th District. Former GOP Rep. Mike Sodrel finished third in his bid against Hill.

Young won with 34 percent of the vote; Columbus real estate investor Travis Hankins received 32 percent; Sodrel had 30 percent.

In southwestern Indiana's 8th District, heart surgeon Larry Bucshon of Newburgh won the Republican primary over Kristi Risk of Spencer, who was backed by many tea party activists. State Rep. Trent Van Haaften of Mount Vernon was unopposed for the Democratic nomination. The seat is being vacated by Democratic Rep. Brad Ellsworth, who is running for the Senate seat being given up by Democrat Sen. Evan Bayh.

In northern Indiana's 2nd District, state Rep. Jackie Walorski of Elkhart won the Republican nomination. She will face Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly this fall.

Democratic Rep. Andre Carson easily won the primary for the 7th District seat in Indianapolis. He will face Butler University professor Marvin Scott, who won the GOP race Tuesday.

Rep. Mike Pence, the third-ranking Republican in the U.S. House, will have a rematch this fall in eastern Indiana's 6th District against Democrat Barry Welsh, a United Methodist minister from Connersville. The outcome was still uncertain early Wednesday in the Republican race in the 1st District, a heavily Democratic area in northwestern Indiana. The seat is currently held by Democratic Rep. Pete Visclosky.

— The Associated Press also contributed to this report.